While most nations with large populations tend to ignore the plight of their workers who for a variety of economic reasons take employment in wealthy overseas economies, President Rodrigo Duterte of The Philippines decided to speak out on an issue that none of his predecessors or international colleagues have addressed in any meaningful way. When a harrowing story of a young Filipina domestic worker who was tortured, killed and then left to hang in a refrigerator in Kuwait came to light, Duterte excoriated the lack of protections for Filipino overseas workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council state.
One of the great ironies and indeed tragedies within dishonest media is that while those who know nothing about the horrific drug problem that President Duterte is combating in The Philippines, such commentators still find the time to condemn Duterte as a “human rights violator”. Not only is Duterte’s cleansing of The Philippines from the plague of murdering, raping, mutilating, torturing and thieving drug addicts and narco-traffickers helping to improve the living standards and human rights of the majority of law abiding Filipinos, but Duterte has done something that few Presidents whose citizens work abroad in high numbers has ever done.
It is no secret that due to the economic mismanagement of most of Duterte’s predecessors, that many Filipinos go abroad looking for job opportunities. Some of these opportunities include working in the service sector of rich Gulfi states including Kuwait. However, what is equally widely known is that throughout the Gulfi states, wealthy individuals and their families often treat their workers in the most horrific ways possible.
As a result of the stories of mistreatment of Filipinos by Kuwaitis, Duterte banned all Filipinos from travelling to Kuwait for work while he issued an order for all Filipinos currently in Kuwait to depart a country that was determined to be unsafe for Filipinos. As part of Duterte’s effort to relive Filipinos in Kuwait, footage emerged of individuals from the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait City helping workers to escape from the slavish conditions of their employers. This caused a diplomatic spat with the oil rich Persian Gulf state, but Duterte nevertheless stood by his word.
Now, in a dramatic turn of events, Kuwait has agreed to sign into domestic law, an agreement with the government of The Philippines that will ensure the safety of Filipino workers. As part of the agreement there is now a 24 hour phone-line available to Filipinos in Kuwait in the event of emergencies and unlike before, Filipinos will now have recourse to the law in disputes with Kuwaiti employees.
In an age where the word “human rights” is used to justify making allowances for violent criminal activity, it is all the more surreal that Duterte’s achievement for the human rights of his countrymen and women when working abroad has been ignored. When stories emerged of the Indian embassy in Saudi Arabia ignoring the plight of Indian workers being abused by their employees in the oil rich kingdom, New Delhi did little as a result. By contrast, Duterte acted quickly to protect the safety, human rights and dignity of Filipino workers in Kuwait and as a result, a once obstinate Kuwaiti regime has climbed down and agreed to sensible regulations that will allow Filipinos to continue working in Kuwait, only now with important civic and legal protections.
This agreement is a milestone for countries looking after the human rights of its citizens beyond domestic borders and it further sheds light on the fact that as the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council cannot economically survive without a foreign workforce, the countries providing the majority of these foreign workers do in fact have the ability to leverage the Gulfis in order to reach agreements that are not as one sided as the realities which persist in the Persian Gulf when no international protests are raised.
In making the streets of The Philippines safer for decent people and in protecting the rights of Filipinos overseas, far from being a so-called “human rights violator”, Duterte is in fact a champion of human rights.
Duterte has not changed his policies which favour elevating the social and economic condition of the Filipino people. What has changed is the prevalence of hypocrites re-defining human rights to mean something it is not. Duterte has set the record straight and he has done so by never backing down in the face of pressure, whether foreign or domestic.