My Take

All of a sudden, Filipinos matter

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has courted all manner of controversy but he has put his country on the map; even little Hong Kong must take notice

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 11:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 5:43pm

Say what you will about Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine president is making everyone sit up and take notice, and that includes Hong Kong.

For lack of a better word, many people here look down on Filipinos. Chip Tsao, the famous commentator, once had to apologise for calling the Philippines a “nation of servants”. But there is no doubt many share his offending attitude.

I can’t help but think that this racism contributed to the ineptitude and ineffectiveness of the government of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in its handling of the Manila hostage crisis in 2010, in which seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide were killed.

During the crisis, Tsang tried but failed to get former president Benigno Aquino on the phone as if he was calling the Manila mayor.

Hong Kong, Philippines resolve bus hostage crisis as families accept payout

Today, no local government official would think that way about Duterte. The populist president, who will be on a state visit to China this week, is making a difference, big and small. He has redefined his country’s pivotal role in the rivalry between China and the US in the region.

In Hong Kong, his government has unilaterally forced a new condition in the contracts of Filipino helpers that bars them from having to clean the exterior of windows. This came after several maids fell to their deaths while cleaning windows in the past months.

Playing the US against China may prove a smart move for Rodrigo Duterte

He is also pushing Beijing to let about 200,000 Filipinos who are currently working illegally as domestic helpers on the mainland to be granted legal status.

The deaths from falls are easily preventable, but have been happening for years. The Aquino government did nothing. Neither did the Hong Kong government nor local employers’ groups. In fact, the groups are now worried maids would refuse to clean windows and have lobbied the government against the ban. The Labour and Welfare Bureau has convinced the Philippine consulate to suspend the ban for 30 days to work out contract details.

Philippines to bring in block on Hong Kong domestic helpers cleaning windows

But it will be done. If the consulate doesn’t do it right, Manila must step in.

Duterte may be ruthless. But he is getting things done, such as getting China to pay for infrastructure developments in his country, including building drug rehab facilities.

Beijing is rolling out the red carpet for Duterte. Hong Kong should see which way the wind is blowing in its treatment of Filipino workers.