ALTERNATIVE MARKETS. Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo Jose De Vega answers questions during a Laging Handa briefing on Tuesday (May 30, 2023). He said the Philippines is eyeing alternative labor markets pending an agreement over an impasse on entry and labor issues with Kuwait. (Screengrab from PTV4)

MANILA – The Philippines is eyeing alternative labor markets pending an agreement over an impasse on entry and labor issues with Kuwait, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.

DFA Undersecretary Eduardo Jose De Vega is optimistic the two parties would be able to address their “misunderstandings” soon but stood firm on Manila’s position that no violations were made in its bid to protect its nationals in Kuwait.

He emphasized that Manila regards Kuwait as a “friend” and that the government would not reciprocate its move to suspend visa issuance on Filipinos with another deployment ban.

“We are friends, we have a disagreement now (but) we’re not going to issue a permanent ban. But we’re telling the Filipinos, right now hindi open ‘yong Kuwait market so let’s look elsewhere pero sana bago matapos ang taon makabalik tayo sa normal na may deployment na uli (hopefully by end of the year, we’ll return to normal and the deployment resumes),” he said in a Laging Handa briefing.

The statement came on the same day the Department of Migrant Workers disclosed that Saudi Arabia is looking to hire 1 million skilled workers from the Philippines over the next two years under a possible “special hiring program” to address the Arab nation’s labor needs.

De Vega, meanwhile, is hoping Kuwait and Manila could hold another round of bilateral meeting by July 2023.

He said the government would not issue an apology nor file a case against Philippine Embassy officials -- two of the “main demands” the Kuwaiti government made after it banned the entry of Filipinos traveling to the country for the first time.

"Ang position natin, wala tayong violations and kung mayroon man ay kailangan pakinggan nila ang ating paliwanag na mayroon ding international law obligation or function ‘yong mga embassies na protektahan ang kanilang nationals (Our position is we have no violations and if there is we hope they could hear us out that the embassies also have the obligation under the international law to protect their nationals),” he said.

There are around 290,000 Filipinos who live and work in Kuwait, largely composed of household service workers.

‘Not a hate crime’

In the same interview, De Vega clarified that the hit-and-run incident that injured 15 Filipino cyclists in Kuwait last Friday had no connection with Manila’s labor row with the Arab state.

He added that there is no indication that it was a hate crime targeting Filipino nationals, citing incidents in the past where non-Filipino cyclists were also involved in road accidents.

“(Ang) comment ng ating Embahada matagal nang nagkakaproblema sa Kuwait tungkol sa accident involving cyclists, kasi hindi malinaw doon iyong rule sa cyclist, kasi walang bike lanes doon (Based on our embassy's comment, Kuwait had been having issues about accidents involving cyclists because there are no clear rules nor bike lanes dedicated for them),” he explained.

“So, iyon ang problem, may mga aggressive driver na nagagalit usually, tapos gusto nila sakupin iyong kanilang kalsada; may speculation din na baka pagod o lasing iyong driver, so malalaman natin eventually (That is the problem, there are aggressive drivers; there is also some speculation that the driver might be tired or drunk, we will know eventually),” he added.

De Vega said at least 11 of the 15 were hospitalized, two of whom are still admitted over a head trauma and back injuries.

He said the driver has surrendered and the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait is waiting for the latest investigation results. (PNA)