The Emir of Kuwait has criticised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to ban the future employment of Filipino workers in Kuwait, after the deplorable living conditions of Filipinos in the small Persian Gulf state have come to light. The proximate cause for the change of policy from Manila was the killing of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis who was found dead in a freezer in Kuwait.
While the issue of the mistreatment of workers in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf has long been known, it has only been Duterte who has sounded the alarm on behalf of his fellow Filipinos. While Kuwait is naturally embarrassed by the negative publicity the incident has caused, Duterte has been praised for putting the well being of Filipinos before any other considerations.
As one of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, life for Filipinos will continue to improve, thus lessening the attraction of foreign work opportunities under harsh conditions. But there is another issue that this raises, one whose solution could foment an opportunity both for Filipino workers, as well as for The Philippines as a whole, to demonstrate its credentials as a major Asian player in the multipolar world.
Chinese and Russian firms are already working with the government of the Syrian Arab Republic on extensive plans to rebuild the country after the current conflict ends. As part of the rebuilding effort, there also exists the wider potential to link Syria to the rest of China’s One Belt–One Road trading network.
Already, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has linked China’s Pacific coast to the Indian Ocean and in the future, growing cooperation between Iran and Pakistan could link the Chinese built Gwadar port in southern Pakistan with the Iranian port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman. From there, road networks from Iran into a re-built Iraq and Syria could ultimately complete a substantial corridor linking the Pacific with the Mediterranean. Indeed, Syria’s geographical placement on One Belt–One Road, can be pointed to as one of the proximate causes for the failure of the US to withdraw its illegal troop presence from Syria’s most oil rich regions, as the US remains hellbent on disrupting the progress of China’s game changing initiative.
But in spite of the obvious set backs, China and Russia are looking to the future, with Moscow’s Ambassador to Damascus, Alexander Kinshchak already suggesting that the rebuilding effort could be a BRICS wide initiative. While the participation of BRICS member India has been called into question due to New Delhi’s burgeoning relationship with Syria’s enemy “Israel”, doors of opportunity for other nations from across Asia will certainly remain open for any willing partner.
The Philippines could be an ideal partner to participate in the rebuilding of Syria for the following reasons:
–The Philippines has a young, educated, largely English speaking (therefore internationally sought after) workforce.
–The growing economy of The Philippines makes it an ideal partner for Syria, a nation that itself will have to be re-built from scratch in many regions. This will help give Filipinos ideas for redeveloping their own infrastructure using the latest technological methods.
–Manila’s cooperation in the rebuilding of Syria would help foment more meaningful long-term partnerships with China and Russia who will take the lead in rebuilding efforts, thus cementing the role of Manila in future pan-Asian projects which revolve around two superpowers.
–Such efforts will help to integrate The Philippines into One Belt–One Road and would open up new commercial avenues for Filipino businesses in the wider Mediterranean region.
–Manila’s neutrality in the wider sectarian and interstate conflicts in the Middle East means that Filipinos will be welcomed throughout the region without the stigma attached to a country like India whose biased position vis-a-vis Tel Aviv has offended many traditional partners.
But beyond these economic and geopolitical gains, for Filipinos still looking for work abroad, the chance to rebuild Syria is a far more positive and possibly more materially enriching endeavour than working in menial jobs in the Arab state of the Persian Gulf. Once the rebuilding stage of the Syria conflict begins in earnest, Syrian, Russian and Iranian security experts will assure the safety of such projects which all of Syria’s partners will have invested a great deal in. Thus, if anything, rebuilding post-conflict Syria could be a safer option than signing up for abuse in countries like Kuwait.
Prior to the onset of the US instigated conflict in 2011, Syria was a peaceful country whose own economy was growing. Now that China and Russia seek to make a post-conflict Syria ultimately stronger than it was before 2011, the opportunities for international partners who offer a variety of skills and contributions will be welcomed by Damascus and its allies.
For The Philippines, it is a chance to increase geopolitical prestige, provide employment for young Filipinos ,provide opportunities for future trade between South East Asia and the Mediterranean, all while building good will across global regions at both a personal and inter-governmental level.
As Duterte has rightly shut the door to a place where Filipino workers are neither respected nor treated well, it would be beneficial to open up a new door to a place where Filipinos would be respected, well treated and welcomed with pleasure. Such a place could be post-conflict Syria. Such an endeavour could be the beginning of a long road to a new win-win formula for the international relations of The Philippines. Furthermore, it would transform the image of The Philippines in the Middle East and beyond from that of a follower to that of a leader, something Rodrigo Duterte has already accomplished for his country in the wider Asian world.