TWO agreements will be signed between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia as President Rodrigo Duterte embarks on the first leg of his three-country swing to Middle East countries this week.
Duterte met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and other high-ranking Saudi officials Tuesday to discuss the plight of Filipino workers there and to strengthen the cooperation between Manila and Riyadh to combat the drug scourge.
Among the agreements signed are a memorandum of agreement on labor cooperation on general workers and employment between Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor and Social Development and the Philippines’ Department of Labor and Employment; and a memorandum of understanding regarding political consultations between Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.
Saudi Arabia is the first leg of President Duterte’s first foreign trip to the Middle East and is the home and destination of work of the largest number of overseas Filipinos in the region.
In an interview at Riyadh, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella clarified that Duterte cannot bring home Filipinos on the death row, but he can bring those who sought amnesty before the Saudi government.
“He was asked about the death row matter. We need to clarify that first the process has not yet reached the level of the king, in which case there is no place for us asking for clemency at this stage so let us wait for the process regarding the death row issues,” Abella said.
He said the President could bring with him those who had taken advantage of an immigration amnesty by Saudi Arabia.
Philippine Consul-General to Saudi Arabia Iric C. Arribas urged Filipinos to avail of the amnesty for undocumented foreign workers declared by the Saudi government last March 29 to resolve problems in their papers to come clean with their government work permits.
Philippine Embassy officials said they were expecting around 5,000 undocumented Filipinos here to avail of the amnesty the Saudi government announced for illegal migrants.
“For this amnesty 2017 we are hoping that all of them will avail but we expect around 5,000 to avail, more or less. We are urging undocumented Filipinos here to avail of the amnesty,” Abella said.
The President is also expected to meet members of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry where Filipino business leaders would meet their Arab counterparts to explore trade and investment opportunities.
Duterte supporter and starlet Margaux “Mocha” Uson is part of Duterte’s entourage as a “morale booster” for Filipinos abroad, the Palace said Tuesday.
Also joining Duterte’s trip abroad is Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos and former Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino, two of Duterte’s closest allies despite having no connection at all to the President’s trips.
Defending Uson’s inclusion in the official delegation abroad, Abella said that Uson will serve as the Philippine delegation’s “morale-booster.”
“The appointed official of The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board is part of the Philippine delegation. She has a large following among the overseas Filipino communities, especially in the Middle East, and it is in their interest that she has come to help boost morale and well-being,” Abella said.
In an interview at Davao City before leaving for Middle East, the Ilocos Norte governor said she asked the Palace to join Duterte’s trips to check on the condition of Filipino workers in the Middle East.
“I really requested to join because among the overseas migrant laborers in the Middle East, many are Ilocanos and women, so it’s important for me to know if their situation is improving because as far as I know, many of them were left behind, so we have to work on it,” Marcos said.
Marcos joined the President’s trips to China and Singapore last year.
Another official spotted joining the President’s trip was Tolentino, whose sister Analyn is currently the President’s Social Secretary.
In a press briefing at Riyadh, Abella admitted that the government is paying for the accommodation of all officials included in the President’s trip to the Middle East.
He said he could not explain how Tolentino was able to join the official delegation, even though he holds no government position.