Duterte eyes warmer RP-KSA ties with visit, the first by a sitting RP president in 8 years

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is eager to work closer with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to forge closer ties towards a mutually beneficial relationship.

Speaking before Filipino newsmen at the Marriot Courtyard at the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said the visit by the President is eyed to address crucial issues between the two countries.

“This is the President’s first state visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the first of a Philippine President in the last eight years. The state visit is an opportunity for the Philippines to strengthen the bilateral relations founded on people-to-people ties that can strive for stronger partnership for progress,” Abella said.

Abella further said the Chief Executive’s delegation will pitch the Philippines as an investment destination in meetings with Saudi business leaders.

The Presidential Spokesperson likewise explained that “the President can stress that the Philippines is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world with growth anchored on strong macroeconomic fundamentals and a leadership resolved to bring genuine reform, combat corruption and address criminality.”.

He added that the President, in his meeting with His Majesty King Salman and the courtesy call of Ministers of the Cabinet, can discuss the expansion of the different areas of Philippine-Saudi Arabia cooperation.

Of particular interest he said was the President’s intent to “express appreciation for assistance to Mindanao, specifically on the pursuit of just and lasting peace; explore new growth areas in two-way trade and investments; discuss closer cooperation on security issues that is terrorist and violent extremism, trade in illicit drugs and other transnational crimes, and to express appreciation for hosting Filipinos in Saudi Arabia and to discuss labor issues confronting overseas Filipino workers.”

Meeting with OFWs likewise on top agenda

Abella added that President Duterte was keen on meeting members of the Filipino community in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A resounding 77 percent of votes cast by Filipinos during the last elections was for then presidential candidate and mayor of Davao city Rodrigo Duterte.

“The President will also meet the members of the Filipino community to thank them for their support for the Duterte administration’s reform agenda,” the spokesman underscored as he is “very appreciative of the support of the people.”

Duterte is known for being close with the masses and he is fully aware of their working condition.

Abella revealed that the President has expressed willingness to bring back some Filipino workers who availed of the Saudi government’s amnesty declared last March 29 for foreign workers who run afoul with immigration rules.

“(H)e did make mention that he would like or that he is planning to bring home some of those who would like to take advantage of the amnesty program regarding violators of immigration rules,” Abella said.

He however pointed out it would be premature for the President to plead for the lives of Filipinos on death row because these cases by and large have not yet reached the level of the Saudi King.

“When 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 to be asking for clemency at this stage. So let us wait for the process regarding death row issues,” Abella added.

Abella said closer cooperation on security issues especially terrorism and violent extremism and trade in illicit drugs will be dealt with during the visit.

Among the matters to be taken up are talks regarding political consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, agreement on cooperation on general workers, recruitment and employment between the Ministry of Labor and Social Development of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Department of Labor of Employment of the Republic of the Philippines. ### PND