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MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has appointed Renato Pedro Villa, who was previously kicked out by Kuwait over the conduct of overseas Filipino worker (OFW) rescues, as the new Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Malacañang announced on Monday, May 15.
Saudi Arabia is the top destination of OFWs, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. Villa, who recently held the position of assistant secretary at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Mindanao, will also have concurrent jurisdiction over neighboring Yemen.
While Malacañang made the announcement on Monday, the Palace said the date of appointment was Thursday, May 11.
Then the Philippine ambassador to Kuwait, Villa was declared persona non grata in April 2018 by the Kuwaiti government for “undiplomatic acts by Philippine embassy staff.” This happened during the time of then-foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
The expulsion spurred from the DFA releasing at least two videos of Philippine embassy officials conducting rescue operations of abused Filipino domestic workers in the Gulf state.
The videos, which went viral, angered the Kuwaiti government, which ordered him to leave. Kuwait accused the Philippines of violating its sovereignty by conducting rescue operations without coordination with the Kuwaiti police. Cayetano defended Villa, saying that the embassy coordinated with Kuwait’s interior ministry on rescue operations like those in the videos.
Cases of abused OFWs “are cases that could not wait,” Cayetano had said.
The Philippines protested Kuwait’s action in a diplomatic note conveying its “great displeasure” over the expulsion.
At the time of the release of the videos, the Philippines was still reeling from the discovery of the cruel death of OFW Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer of an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.
Demafelis’ death led to the Philippines imposing a deployment ban on Filipino workers bound for Kuwait.
In 2017, Villa had also pushed for a suspension on the recruitment of Filipino workers to Kuwait, saying that the Philippines needed “to protect our workers,” according to a Kuwait Times report. He recognized the tens of thousands of Filipino domestic workers who were vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse by employers.
Renato also spent time working in the DFA’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs.
Villa is an OFW-turned-ambassador, according to Philippine ambassador to the United Kingdom Teodoro Locsin Jr. He was the Philippines’ representative to the United Nations (UN) at the time of Villa’s expulsion from Kuwait.
On Monday, Malacañang also announced the appointments of the following ambassadors:
- Josel Ignacio, ambassador to India, with jurisdiction over Nepal
- Maria Angela Ponce, ambassador to Malaysia
- Paul Raymund Cortes, ambassador to Portugal, with jurisdiction over Caba Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, and Angola
- Carlos Sorreta, permanent representative of the Philippines to the UN