by Yas Ocampo and Genalyn Kabiling
Davao City – President Duterte is embarking on a mission to bring home overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) granted clemency or cleared by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) under its amnesty program during his visit to the Middle East.
Before departing for his weeklong journey to the three Gulf states, the President announced that the government would start to facilitate the repatriation of Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia.
“Yes, they’ve been given the clearance. I will fly them home. Pagdating ko dito, dala ko na ‘yung iba (Some of them will be with me in my return trip),” the President said in a press conference at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao City, when asked if the fate of Filipinos on death row will be tackled during his visits to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar.
“Doon sa (At) Jeddah. Those who are given the permission or clemency to whatever it was, may clearance na about 5,000 of them, we’ll start bringing them back. The first batch, pagdating ko, pagbalik,” he added.
“I will bring them home,” Duterte said.
ENHANCED BILATERAL TIES
Apart from this, Duterte will “forge deeper, more meaningful, and more positive engagements with the Middle East.”
“There is much at stake in the Philippines’ relations with the Middle East: It is the global center of traditional energy resources; it is a source of investments with potential for much growth; it is an expanding market for key Philippine products and services; and, it is home to the largest group of Filipinos working overseas,” Duterte said.
Duterte said he will meet with Saudi Arabia King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Tuesday to revitalize the bilateral relations. “It is and will be an important and valuable opportunity to reaffirm a lasting friendship and seek ways [of] further broadening cooperation, particularly in politico-security and defense, trade and investments, anti-narcotics, labor, energy, education and culture,” he said.
He said the two countries will also discuss shared constituents who attend the annual visits to Makkah and Madina.
BAHRAIN, QATAR VISITS
From Riyadh, Duterte will travel to Kingdom of Bahrain where he will hold talks with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Manama. Duterte plans to “expand the frontiers of friendship and tap into the converging interests in order to intensify two-way trade and investments, seek greater politico-security cooperation and exchange to increase trade and commerce.”
Duterte’s third and final stopover is Doha, Qatar where he will meet with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. “There is always much to explore to make the bilateral relations even more vibrant as they are. We will seek greater politico-security cooperation, collaboration in the field of health and culture. It is on top of this agenda of spurring two-way trade and investments,” he said.
Duterte said he will also seek the support of the leaders of the Gulf states to support the government’s efforts to bring just and lasting peace in Mindanao.
Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) advised OFWs in Saudi Arabia to avail themselves of the amnesty offered by the kingdom under the “Nation Without Violations” program for undocumented migrant workers this month.
Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said the DOLE has already sent a team to the KSA to assess the condition of the undocumented workers to ensure smooth processing of documents of the workers.
The 90-day Amnesty of Grace Period offered by the Saudi government is a welcome development to OFWs covered by the “exemption to penalties,” the DOLE said.
The amnesty program, which started last March 29, allows the undocumented workers to return to their countries of origin without payment of penalties or exit fees. Bello had earlier said around 5,000 undocumented Filipino workers are expected to benefit from the amnesty program. The amnesty coincides with President Duterte’s trip to the Middle East.
The Philippine government, through the Philippine embassy in the KSA, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in KSA, the DOLE, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), are ready to assist undocumented OFWs who will avail themselves of the amnesty.
WHO ARE COVERED?
The amnesty covers residents whose iqama (residence permit for expats) expired on or before 19 March 2017; workers with work permit but no iqama ID card; runaway workers reported as such on or before 19 March 2017; Umrah and Haj overstayer (pilgrimage), pilgrims without Haj permit; and “infiltrators’ crossing Saudi borders.
“The Philippine embassy encourages the OFWs and their families here to advise their OFW relatives to take the opportunity and register themselves and get home with the help of the Philippine government,” the DOLE said.
The OWWA assured there would be assistance waiting for the OFWs once they get home.