Duterte calls on Filipino workers in Kuwait to come home

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 29) – President Rodrigo Duterte called on Filipino workers in Kuwait to return to the Philippines amid the diplomatic row between the two countries.

"Lahat kayong Pilipinong nakikinig, umuwi na lang kayo sa Pilipinas tutal marami nang trabaho. Marami na talagang trabaho ngayon," Duterte said before the Filipino community in Singapore. "I now appeal to your sense of patriotism: Come home."

[Translation: To all Filipinos listening, please return to the Philippines because there are already a lot of jobs for you here.]

The President appealed mostly to the domestic workers in Kuwait, as he said there is no problem with professionals who want to stay in the Gulf State.

Duterte issued a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait in February, following the death of domestic worker Joanna Demafelis, who was found stuffed in a freezer in February.

Thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) have been repatriated following the ban.

The President also appealed to the Kuwaiti government and employers not to harm the Filipino workers.

"So do not hurt them, just help us. I will look for money at kukunin ko lahat ng trabahanteng Pilipino (I will take all of Filipino workers from) ," he said. "I plead that they be given a treatment deserving of a human being."

Duterte said he might use the financial aid from China, supposedly allotted for hospitals outside of Metro Manila, to help Filipinos leave Kuwait.

"'Yung pera na 'yan gagastuhin ko na lang para kunin ko lahat ng gustong umuwi. (I will use the money to help those who want to leave Kuwait," he said.

Duterte also said the government will help the workers pay off their debts.

"Nandiyan 'yung pera. O kung wala pa 'yun napasok sa National Treasury, I can always use emergency fund. To me it's a calamity. It is a calamity," he added.

OFW group Migrante International, however, said Filipino workers returning home may end up unemployed or underemployed.

"Ito ay walang idudulot na maganda at mas mapapalala pa nga sa kalagayan nating mga Pilipino," Migrante International spokesperson Arman Hernando said.

[Translation: This will not do them any good; it will only worsen their situation.]

He added it is likely the Filipino workers would just return to Kuwait through illegal means.

"Mapipilitan ang mga kababayan natin na desperate na dumaan sa mga illegal o mabiktima ng human traffickers kahit ilegal," Hernando said.

[Translation: They will be forced to go through illegal means or be victims of human traffickers.]

Setting aside negotiations

Duterte also said he is setting aside negotiations with the government of Kuwait to prioritize the exit of all Filipinos.

"Mamaya na lang tayo mag-usap 'pag nakuha ko na lahat (I would only talk to you once I have gotten all Filipinos out of Kuwait)," he said.

Duterte still thanked the Government of Kuwait for helping Filipinos find income opportunities.

"It is a debt of gratitude that after all nakatulong naman kayo (you did help us)," he said. "So salamat (So thank you) to the government of Kuwait, to the Emir, thank you for your generosity in the past years."

He clarified he harbors no anger nor hatred toward Kuwait. But he said, he understands that the Gulf State might be seeing Filipino workers as "burden."

"Parang ayaw na nila. So sige. Salamat na lang. Anyway, nakatulong kayo. (It feels like they no longer want them. It's fine. Thank you. Anyway, you were able to help us)," he said.

Kuwait is a top destination for overseas Filipino workers, with some 260,000 Filipinos working there as of 2018.