Malacañang: 4 Filipino drivers released after meeting between PH, Kuwait officials

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 9) — Kuwait has released four Filipino drivers arrested for taking part in Philippine officials' rescue operation for distressed Filipino workers in the Gulf state, Malacañang said on Wednesday.

This comes after a meeting between Philippine and Kuwaiti officials to iron out the two nations' diplomatic row, according to a statement from the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson.

In a press briefing in Kuwait, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said charges against the four drivers would also be dropped.

The four drivers hired by the Philippine Embassy were arrested after a video showing embassy officials on a rescue mission in Kuwait went viral.

The video had prompted Kuwait to declare Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa persona non grata and expel him. Warrants of arrest were also issued against Filipino diplomats who participated in the rescue effort.

Roque said, however, they are still coordinating with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior on the charges against the three diplomats.

Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said the proposed labor deal that will protect Filipino workers from abuse by their employers would be signed on May 11.

Filipino officials wanted provisions to include that employers not confiscate workers' passports and for the documents to instead be deposited with the Philippine Embassy. They also asked that workers be allowed at least seven hours of sleep, a day off, permission to cook food, and not to be physically abused.

Government officials have interchangeably used memorandum of understanding and memorandum of agreement to refer to the labor deal.

"Also, Kuwait agreed to create a Special Unit within the Police that the Philippine Embassy can liaison with regarding complaints of Filipino workers which will be available 24 hours and a Special Number that Filipino workers can call for assistance (also available 24 hours)," the Palace statement added.

The Philippine delegate that met with the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry was composed of Roque, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, former Labor Secretary Marianito Roque, Labor attaché Rustico dela Fuente, and Deputy Chief of Mission in Kuwait Mohd Noordin Lomondot.

In addition to the four drivers coming home, Roque said over 500 undocumented Filipino workers may also come home, with the Kuwaiti government shouldering the expenses. At least 150 of them could join Philippine officials when they return home on Saturday, while 62 others will remain in Kuwait due to pending cases, Roque added.

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

Remittances from Kuwait for the first two months of 2018 amounted to P5.5 billion, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. In 2017, a total of P42 billion were remitted from the Gulf state.