Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte apologised to Kuwait on Sunday for his language during a diplomatic row over the treatment of workers that appeared to come to a close last month.
The Philippine premier had accused the Gulf state and other Middle Eastern countries of seeing his people as slaves and not caring for the plight of workers after a series of deaths linked to abuse including that of a Filipino maid found dead in a freezer.
“I implore you, I am making a plea to all Arabs, the Filipino is no slave to anyone, anywhere and everywhere,’ Duterte said ahead of enacting a ban on his county’s workers travelling to Kuwait in February. “Do not give us back a battered worker or a mutilated corpse.”
He also described Arab employers as routinely raping Filipino staff, forcing them to work 21-hour days and feeding them leftovers.
At a press conference to Filipino workers in South Korea on Sunday he struck a dramatically different tone, according to AFP.
“For the first time I would say that I was harsh in my language – maybe because that was a result of an emotional outburst. But I’d like to apologise now,” the premier was quoted as saying.
“I’m sorry for the language that I was using but I’m very satisfied with… how you responded to the problems of my country.”
Tensions between the two countries appeared to cool in the weeks after the February ban as the two countries discussed a labour deal designed to grant workers greater protection.
However, they then dramatically increased after a diplomatic row following revelations that the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait had been conducting operations to ‘rescue’ workers from their employers without the government’s permission.
The aftermath saw Kuwait expel the Philippine ambassador and arrest a number of people accused of being involved, while issuing warrants for diplomatic staff holed up in the embassy.
This led Duterte to declare the work ban would become permanent.
However, talks behind the scenes continued and a labour deal, which included the establishment of a mechanism to assist workers in distress 24/7, a guaranteed rest day a week and seven hours sleep a night and the right to hold onto their passports and phones, was signed last month.
The work ban was then lifted gradually on the week of May 13, starting with skilled and semi-skilled workers and then including domestic workers days later.
Duterte said on Sunday he hoped to visit Kuwait to express his gratitude for the deal.
“I’d like to thank the Kuwaiti government for understanding us and keeping their faith [in] us and practically [giving in] to all of my demands,” he was quoted as saying.
There are more than 250,000 Filipinos employed in Kuwait, many of which support families back home by remitting money each month.