July 26, 2017, 8:38 am
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Duterte back from Middle East trip

PRESIDENT Duterte is set to arrive at dawn today, Monday, from his three-country state visit in the Middle East, in time to meet some 150 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) being repatriated from Saudi Arabia.

Duterte went on a state visit to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar from April 10 to 16 and had separate meetings with Saudi Arabia King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

He also met members of the business and Filipino communities in the three countries and visited the 2017 Grand Prix tower in Bahrain.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the OFWs were being repatriated under an amnesty program of the Saudi Arabian government for undocumented and overstaying foreigners.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the OFWs were scheduled to leave Saudi Arabia around noon of Sunday (5 p.m. in Manila) and arrive in Manila around 3:30 a.m., around the same time the President is arriving.

Duterte is planning to welcome the repatriated OFWs who will benefit under the “Sagip Sundo” program of government. Aside from being served breakfast, they will also receive some financial assistance.

An initial 105 OFWs arrived from Riyadh last week after the Saudi Arabian government allowed hundreds of “runaway” OFWs to return to the country.

Bello said the Qatari government is also considering allowing the repatriation of 86 OFWs from Qatar.

He said he met with the Qatari minister of labor about the possible repatriation of the 86 OFWs who are currently staying at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Doha. He said they include victims of illegal recruitment and abuse from employers.

Bello said the Philippine government is working on the release of exit permits for the OFWs and the recovery of their possessions still being held by their employers. He said he is hoping the 86 would be repatriated in a month or two.

Bello said the President is also expected to seek pardon for three OFWs who are serving jail terms in Qatar for espionage and economic sabotage. The three allegedly passed Qatari military and economic information to Manila.

He said there was a possibility that two of the OFWs may be given pardon.

The President, before leaving Doha on Sunday, had a bilateral meeting with the Emir after being formally welcomed at the Amriri Palace. Duterte thanked the Emir for Qatar’s hosting of his visit and for taking care of the OFWs working and living there.

He also witnessed the signing of four agreements that included accords on arts and cultural exchanges, technical vocational education and training, and healthcare. This included establishing an all-Filipino hospital by the Philippine Business Council and the observance of the reciprocity principle which means healthcare providers like doctors from the Philippines can now practice in Qatar and vice versa.

Also signed was an agreement on investment protection and promotion between the Philippines and Qatar which aims to provide basic rights and equal guarantees and equal treatment to investors from both Manila and Doha.

A $1 billion investment fund being provided by Qatar to the Philippines that can be tapped to improve the investment facilities in the country is expected to be provided following the signing of the investment protection and promotion agreement.

During his visit in Qatar, Duterte met members of the Filipino and business community and talked about the programs of his government against corruption, crime and drugs.

In his meeting with the business community, Duterte mentioned the growing ties between the Philippines and China also promised that the Philippines is ready to “stand by” its allies in the Middle East and even deploy Philippine military in case they come under attack.

He said he does not need the permission of the United States or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to deploy Filipinos troops to the Gulf region.

“It is of our national interest to see to it that you are stable, there is no trouble bugging you and we will stand by you,” the President said as he assured that he can send members of the “very disciplined military” to assist Qatar should the need arise.

He said his only appeal is that the Philippine forces be provided with food and shelter.

“They will fight for you. I said we will stand by you. If there is a need, we will do it,” the President said, adding that he made the same offer when he talked to leaders of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the President was probably talking about military and security exchanges that include training of forces and exchanges of information.

He said such military and security training activities would be dependent in a cooperation agreement that has to be worked out in the about six months to one year.

“It would be on the basis of training... this will be very selective and it will be probably be based on specialized courses forces or training,” Esperon said in a briefing.
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