By Genalyn D. Kabiling
The “Dutertenomics” is on a roll.
President Duterte is bringing home a whopping $925 million worth of investments from his weeklong journey in the Middle East, apart from the repatriation of 150 Filipino workers granted amnesty from Saudi Arabia.
Another $1 billion worth of sovereign investment fund from Qatar is also forthcoming as part of the investment protection and promotion agreement with the tiny energy-rich emirate, according to Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.
“They are not only impressed by the President, they love the President. They love him because he’s a no nonsense guy. They consider us like brothers,” Lopez said in a media interview about the revitalized trade and investment relations following the President’s visit to Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia in the past week.
“The President’s visit to the Middle East is really part of ‘Dutertenomics’ that aims to create more jobs, attract more investments to the country,” Lopez said, citing the President’s commitment to combat corruption and offer a level playing field for potential investors.
“These are part of the socioeconomic agenda that will in the end uplift the quality of life of Filipinos.”
The President wrapped up his state visit to Qatar, the last leg of his Middle East tour, with a meeting with the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Than on revitalized bilateral relations especially on trade and investment.
Duterte is expected to return to Manila on Monday afternoon.
“During the President’s weeklong country visit, he witnessed the signing of over US$925 million worth of investment deals among Saudi, Bahraini and Qatari businessmen, which expected to create approximately 62,000 jobs,” Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a press conference at Four Seasons Hotel here.
Of the $925-million business ventures, the President secured $469 million from Saudi Arabia that can generate 16,000 jobs; $250 million in Bahrain that can create 2,000 jobs; and $206 million in Qatar for 5,770 jobs.
Several agreements were also forged on investment, labor cooperation, strengthening of diplomatic ties, air services, avoidance of double taxation, and cooperation on culture, health and technical and vocational education and training during the President’s Middle East tour.
In Doha alone, Lopez said the 13 private business agreements forged during the President’s visit are expected to create more than 5,000 jobs.
The Qatari investments to the Philippines covered tourism, information technology, healthcare, poultry/halal food processing, digital marketing, coco fiber manufacturing, and agro-industrial economic zone.
Lopez said the two countries also signed an investment protection and promotion agreement that will facilitate the release of the $1-billion sovereign fund from the Gulf state.
“On top of what we reported earlier of $925 million of new investments, business-to-business deals, there is a $1-billion fund that could be made available. It’s a facility that will be available also for investment activities,” he said.
Lopez said investment promotion agreement provides “the basic rights and guarantees” to investors from Qatar. ”We have basic rights for investors but they wanted a black and white agreement that investments are protected,” he said.
He said the President’s anti-corruption stance has also convinced the business community to post their investments in the country. “They know the leader is backing the businessmen community, infrastructure development. This will create a positive sentiment for the country. If you have that thinking, the Philippines will be on top of their mind,” he added.
Apart from the proposed business ventures in the country, Abella the President managed to secure the repatriation of 150 Filipinos granted amnesty from the Saudi Arabia.
“He is expected to arrive in the Philippines with more than 150 OFWs from Saudi Arabia, the first batch of which are those being repatriated by the Philippine government due to the grant of amnesty to overstaying and undocumented foreign workers by the Saudi government,” Abella added.
The Filipino workers are expected to take a commercial flight and arrive in Manila on Monday morning, according to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
Duterte has encouraged Qatari businessmen to invest in the country and “shoot” anyone who tries to extort money from them.
The President has promised a corruption-free business climate in the country in his investment pitch during the Philippines-Qatar business forum here.
“I give you the authority to… If somebody from the Internal Revenue, Customs would ask you even 10 pesos, shoot him. I will not allow corruption,” Duterte said in his remarks.
“Everything will be all right. Everything will be followed. There will be no harassments. There will be no asking of money. It will be a truly honest to goodness transaction,” he added.
Duterte argued that he has zero tolerance for corruption, lamenting that graft practices have only pulled the country down for many years. He said he has fired several government officials, including a Cabinet member and a close aide, after being implicated in irregularities.
In seeking investments for the country, the President said businessmen could venture into the country’s agriculture, mining, and other lucrative sectors.
“(The) Philippines is an agricultural country. We know that we can offer you so many things from the bounties of the Earth. We have mining, we have everything, ore, uranium,” he said.
He said the country is also large enough to accommodate “any kind of vegetation” but lamented that it has lost large parts of the forest to irresponsible lumber firms.
The government is also committed to honor business contracts, according to the President.
Duterte admitted that the country has been previously known to renege on contractual obligations, particularly suspend the deal when the “commission is not big enough for distribution.”
“We will honor our obligations. That is in the Constitution itself that there shall be no impairment of the obligation of contracts,” Duterte said.
“Insofar as trade is concerned I can assure you, what we sign and I agree with you will be done even if we lose in the transaction, we will honor what we have promised,” he added.
The President also tackled security concerns in the country in his conversation with the Qatari businessmen, citing peace initiatives with the communist rebels and the Muslim separatists.
“We do not have any trouble with the rebellions now,” he said.
“I hope that Allah would be most gracious for us. The merciful would grant us peace. And we hope to succeed in our peace talks. We are ready to reconfigure the land. We are ready to concede what was lost of them,” he added.
Duterte, however, conceded the government is still dealing with the threat of Islamic state-linked Abu Sayyaf group in the country.
“What we have inherited, all of us in this world, is the violent ideology of the ISIS. They are here, they are in Mindanao, and they anointed a leader of the Abu Sayyaf, and these are the group down South that would continue to behead everybody which you see on TV,” he said.
As allies, Duterte also declared that the Philippines is ready to deploy government troops in case its Middle Eastern allies come under attack.
The President offered to forge closer security cooperation in appreciation of kindness and goodwill extended by Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to the Philippines, from helping boost the nation’s growth to providing employment to Filipino workers.
“It is of our national interest to see to it that you are stable, that there is no trouble bugging you and we will stand by you,” the President said during a Philippines-Qatar business forum in Doha last Saturday night.
“I am even willing, if you are in trouble, if you are short with manpower, I have a very disciplined military and I can send them here,” he said, adding he made a similar commitment to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain during his recent visit there.
Duterte assured that the Filipino troops are “law abiding” and “well disciplined” and could be deployed to borders to “fight for national interest” as well as “protect and defend” the Gulf allies if needed.
His only appeal was for the Gulf States to provide food and shelter for the government forces due to his government’s limited funds. “They will fight for you. I said we will stand by you. If there is a need, we will do it,” the President said.
Duterte insisted that 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. “I am independent of them and I will only protect where our interest lies. There are millions of Filipinos here. You can be sure that if you need us, we will come here,” he said.
A day after the President’s remarks, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon clarified on Sunday that the planned military assistance is simply part of the security cooperation with the Gulf states.
“It would be on a basis of training which we have yet to set up. This will probably take another six months to one year. This will be very selective and it will be probably based on specialized courses or training,” Esperon said in a media interview here. “It’s a normal military-to-military cooperation, security cooperation,” he added.
Esperon said there was “no such thing as a military operational deployment” although the Philippines is part of the coalition maritime force in Bahrain.
Asked about the President’s comment about the troops defending the Gulf states, Esperon said: “If required to, defending means a lot of – it can be echelon, meaning it could be exchange of information, it could be direct coordination.”
The President, meantime, thanked anew the Middle East countries for hosting Filipinos workers over the years. He said they help educate the Filipino youth since parents working in the Middle East send money back home for their schooling.
Apart from being home to the largest group of Filipino workers, Duterte also recognized that the Middle East as a source of trade and investments for the Philippines. He said the Gulf states have contributed to the country’s economic growth over the years.
The President’s remarks came on the eve of his meeting with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Than at the Amiri Royal Palace. Duterte was expected to broaden bilateral cooperation on politico-security, trade, investments, health assistance in his bilateral talks with the Emir on Sunday.
Prior to flying to Qatar, the President visited Bahrain where he first offered to send a military battalion in case it faces trouble.
Duterte, speaking to the business community in Bahrain, said Filipino troops will be “happy to die” for their Gulf allies.
“If you want to deploy us here, we will agree, because of our national interest and the lives of Filipinos here,” he said. “If there’s a violent activity going on, we will be ready to help you,” he added.
The Gulf states, he added, don’t need to worry about compensation for the military troops. “Never, about payment. We will pay them back home,” he said.
150 OFWs going home
Futhermore, the President is set to bring home with him some 150 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Saudi Arabia, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella confirmed in a press conference in Doha yesterday afternoon.
Abella said the 150 returning OFWs are the ones who availed themselves of the amnesty program of the Kingdom’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier confirmed in a press conference in Riyadh that the 150 undocumented OFWs would be going home with Duterte after his visit to Doha, Qatar.
According to Bello, bringing home OFWs was one of Duterte’s top priorities for the trip, prompting him to bring it up with his Saudi counterpart Labor Minister Ali al-Ghufays Tuesday.