Duterte to spend Holy Week in Middle East

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President Rodrigo Duterte will fly to three Middle Eastern countries for state visits next week, where he is expected to discuss economic and political cooperation as well as the welfare of millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) there.

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In a news conference in Malacañang, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Hjayceelyn Quintana said Duterte was
set to visit Saudi Arabia from April 10 to 12, Bahrain from April 12 to 14, and Qatar from April 14 to 16.

Duterte will meet with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

She noted that the “Middle East has been and remains the destination of choice of overseas Filipino workers.”

“He will discuss with these leaders matters relevant to the welfare and dignity of the Filipinos living in their countries as well as explore avenues for economic and political cooperation,” Quintana told reporters.

The Foreign Affairs official said 31 OFWs were in death row in Saudi Arabia and one in Bahrain.

“In the meetings of the President, that is of course one of the main topics for discussion,” Quintana said.

She said some cases of OFWs in death row were “very complex” but added that the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs was handling the issue.

Quintana said officials would identify which ones “will be ripe … for clemency or for pardon.”

Officials of the Department of Labor and Employment are also talking to their Middle Eastern counterparts on labor cooperation amid reports of Filipinos being abused by their employers, she said.

The Middle East is the Philippines’ second largest source of remittances, accounting for 28 percent of the total or almost $7.5 billion in 2016.

During the trip, Duterte will also “explore partnerships” in tourism development, halal food security, Islamic finance and energy security, as well as investments.

“He will invite these countries to invest particularly in Mindanao as a way of lifting Mindanao out of both poverty and conflict,” Quintana said.

“On political cooperation, the President is keen on seeking partnerships in security, countering terrorism and combating illicit drugs,” she added.

Quintana said the President would witness the signing of agreements on labor, agriculture, air services, culture, health and political bilateral consultations.

Duterte will meet Filipinos in Riyadh, Manama and Doha. There are about 760,000 Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, 60,000 in Bahrain, and 250,000 in Qatar.

“The President hopes that through the stronger partnerships he will forge during this visit, he can tap into the over $500 billion combined investment capital of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and State of Qatar and bring home more investment and jobs for our people,” Quintana said.

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