Pre-Departure Briefing on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s Visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Bahrain and State of Qatar by Assistant Secretary Hjayceelyn M. Quintana Office of Middle East and African Affairs Department of Foreign Affairs
Press Briefing Room, New Executive Building, Malacañang
07 April 2017


ASEC. QUINTANA: Good morning. I’ll just read an opening statement first.  

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will embark on a State Visit to the Middle East on 10 to 16 April 2017 to meet with the leaders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the State of Qatar, as well as our overseas Filipino workers in those countries.

The President’s trip to the Middle East, whose objectives will be summarized by the words, “People, Progress and Partnerships,” aims to strengthen efforts for the protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare of the more than 1 million of our people working in those 3 countries, invite investors to the Philippines and usher in progress here at home, and to forge stronger partnerships by elevating our political and economic cooperation with these countries to new heights.

The Middle East, or the Gulf States in particular, despite the economic challenges they are currently facing from reduced revenues due to low oil prices, remains an important region for the Philippines.

The Middle East has been and remains the destination of choice of overseas Filipino workers. Of the top 10 destinations in 2015, six are in the Middle East and all six are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Three of which, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar, are the countries the President is visiting this April.

In terms of remittances, the Middle East is the second largest source with 28 percent or almost 7.6 billion US dollars remitted from the region in 2016. Out of that 28 percent, more than a third or 10 percent was remitted by OFWs based in Saudi Arabia, the second top source of remittance.

According to the Department of Energy, 87 percent of the total crude mix was sourced from the Middle East, of which 36.1 percent came from Saudi Arabia, the top supplier of crude oil into the country.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which the President is visiting on 10 to 12 April 2017, he will meet with His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. In Manama, Bahrain, where the President proceeds from 12 to 14th of April, he is scheduled to meet with His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. And finally in Doha, the President is scheduled to meet with the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, while in the State of Qatar on 14 to 16 April 2017.

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.

In terms of economic cooperation, the President will 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.

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

The President will also be witnessing the signing of agreements on labor, agriculture, air services, culture, health and political bilateral consultations.

Another highlight of the President’s week-long tour of the Middle East are his meetings with the Filipino communities in Riyadh, Manama and Doha.

In Saudi Arabia, there are 760,000 Filipinos. In Bahrain, there are about 60,000 Filipino while in Qatar, there are about 250,000 Filipinos.

The President hopes to inspire people making a living in these countries to help him build a more developed and economically vibrant Philippines.

The President desires that in the not so distant future there will be no longer be a reason for Filipinos to leave their families behind in order to make a living.

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

Thank you. 


Leila Salaverria (Philippine Daily Inquirer): Good morning. Ma’am, one of the problems of Filipino workers in Middle Eastern countries is the — is they are abused by employers. Will the government be making — will be holding specific talks about this or making any specific proposal to address their issues? 

ASEC. QUINTANA: As we speak, there are actually consultations ongoing together with the Department of Labor and their counterpart to talk about labor cooperation. And in the meetings of the President, that is of course one of the main topics for discussion. 

Ms. Salaverria: Another topic. Do we have Filipinos on death row and will they be on the agenda as well? Will we be seeking clemency or anything like that from the government of Middle Eastern countries? 

ASEC. QUINTANA:  As far as the Department of Foreign Affairs is concerned, we have given data on that. In Saudi Arabia, for example, there’s about 31, I think on death row that we are constantly monitoring their cases. And I think in Bahrain there’s one and in Qatar, there’s none.

So again, you know, all these cases are being handled by our Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs and they are all in different levels of — in terms of handling and they are actually very complex, some of these cases are very complex.

So they are being studied by the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs and see which ones will be ripe for you know, for clemency or for pardon, things like that.

Dexter Ganibe (DZMM): Hi, ma’am, good morning. Ma’am bukod doon sa mga nakapila sa death row, may bilang po tayo ng mga Pinoy na ongoing ang trial nila sa iba’t-ibang mga kaso? At ano po ‘yung mga hakbang na ginagawa po ng pamahalaan po natin? 

ASEC. QUINTANA: Meron po kaming mga datos lagi sa mga ganyang mga kaso like for example, thefts, you know, absconding for example. Kumpleto naman po ang data because araw-araw ‘yan tinututukan ng Embahada bawat kaso.

In fact, we also have retained lawyers also. So there are regular reports on how these cases are progressing. So that is a regular function of the Embassy actually.

Mr. Ganibe: Ano po ‘yung ratio ng counsel to Pinoy na — 

ASEC. QUINTANA: I think it’s just but right. Hindi ko ho alam ang talagang figure and ratio ‘no pero from the reports that I have been reading, hindi naman nagkukulang both sa panahon or attention.

At karamihan doon ho ay kumbaga ay categorized naman kung anong klaseng ano and there is a mechanism already for handling such cases. So… 

Mr. Ganibe: Kasama po ba ‘yan sa mga mapapag-usapan sa pagbisita ng Pangulo? Dahil, tawag doon, ‘yung mga ilang kababayan natin, ang binabanggit nila hindi dapat sila nasama doon sa death row kung natutukan ng mas maigi, nabigyan ng abugadong tututok sa mga mga kaso bago pa man sila mahatulan? 

ASEC. QUINTANA: In a general sense, of course, the President is aware of the nature of the cases that are being handled by the Department or by the Embassies.

And, of course, ‘pag minsan ho may complaint, meron din ho kasing proseso rin na kailangan i-follow. Sometimes I think that is where the misunderstanding gets in because hindi po nakukuha masyado ‘yung complexity nung mga procedures. Pero sa tingin ko naman eh talagang natututukan ho. Hindi lang siguro talagang parang one-on-one ‘no. But on time naman, for example, ‘yung mga hearings, on time naman, for example, ‘yung kung ano mang appeal ang kailangang gawin.

Ina Andolong (CNN Philippines): Hi, ma’am. You mentioned about ongoing efforts to assess, ‘yung sa death row ‘to, cases that maybe ripe to seek commutation. Is there an effort maybe to come up with a list of names in time for the President’s visit so that he may raise these himself during his visit? 

ASEC. QUINTANA: I cannot preempt the President on that. So but I just probably can tell you that we have enough information given to the Office of the President on that.

Ms. Andolong: And I just have to ask, ma’am, but there are reports that there are MERS cases in some parts of Riyadh, I believe. Some reports are referring to it as an outbreak. Is this a cause of concern for the President’s visit? 

ASEC. QUINTANA: MERS outbreak? Well, all these are being considered anyway. I don’t know the specifics of that but I’m sure anything that would affect the welfare of the Filipinos there, the well being of the Filipinos there, the Embassies are on top of those kinds of issues.

Chona Yu (Radyo Inquirer): Ma’am, doon sa nasa death row, meron doon drug cases?

ASEC. QUINTANA: Mostly murder. Mostly murder.

Ms. Yu: Paano po tayo, ma’am, mag-a-appeal ng clemency tapos ang Philippines we’re pushing for death penalty? 

ASEC. QUINTANA: Sa countries na pupuntahan kasi ni President, Sharia law ‘di ba? So meron doong public as — public right aspect and private right aspect ‘no. Nandoon ‘yun — nakasalalay ‘yun doon sa demand nung nabiktima, which is the family in these cases ‘no.

Kung for example the heirs of the accused — of the victims says they want to demand blood money then na-satisfy ‘yun, meron din kaukulang… In other words, kino-consider ‘yung lahat ng ‘yun, ‘yung private rights aspect of a case.

So kung okay naman kasi sa pamilya, because that’s the Islamic jurisprudence, hindi naman siguro nagko-contradict. Iyon ang aking paningin. 

Paterno Esmaquel (Rappler): Hi, ma’am. Ma’am, karaniwan po ‘yung mga Pangulo, nagpapahinga o nagtitika tuwing Holy Week. Bakit po naisip ni Pangulo na gawin itong visit na ‘to sa tatlong Muslim countries sa mismong Holy Week? 

ASEC. QUINTANA: Being the office overseeing the Office of Middle East and African Affairs, I can tell you that there have been different dates that have been proposed in the past as early as last year. And for some reason, eventually, ito lang ang nag-work out that were mutually accepted by both parties as convenient.

So… at yeah, that’s… So hindi naman ho talagang itiniming (timing). There have been — I think maybe three or four dates that were considered before as early as December, January, February.

Pero just like in anything, when you are visiting a foreign country, there’s a lot of consultation between the two sides of what is mutually convenient for both sides.

Cedric Castillo (GMA-7): Good morning, ma’am. Ma’am, all three po are State Visits ano po?


Mr. Castillo: Ma’am, hindi lang ibang bansa lang sa Dubai po. Hingi lang kami baka may update na kay Jennifer Dalquez po.

ASEC. QUINTANA: As far as I know and that’s really the area of the Office of Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs. But the information that I know is that there would be another hearing I think in the next few days or so. Kasi parang na-postpone siya three times, I think, ‘yung sentencing, if I remember correctly.

Reymund Tinaza (Bombo Radyo): Hi, ma’am, good morning. Ma’am, do we expect na medyo may magandang parang balita or pasalubong na maaaring iuwi ang Pangulo dahil ang daming mga stranded na mga OFWs sa Saudi na hindi makauwi with different problems sa kanilang mga employers. Meron ba siyang iuuwi from his visit? 

ASEC. QUINTANA: Again, I would not want to preempt that. But all I can say and share with you is that there’s an ongoing amnesty in Saudi Arabia. It will be a 90-day amnesty.And there’s about maybe 15,000 that are… Filipinos who are there that are qualified to avail of that amnesty. And… So, you know, the repatriation is ongoing. So…

Mr. Tinaza: And marami kasi doon sa mga hospitals doon sa Saudi na nag-a-absorb nalang ‘yung mga natatanggal sa mga other private hospitals and yet for years nagtitiis sila na kahit walang sweldo dahil nga lang sa kahihiyan na bumalik sa Pilipinas na wala ng trabaho. So may na-address na ba ‘yun? Kasi I understand hanggang ngayon as we speak ang dami pa ‘yung mga nurses na working as janitress sa mga hospitals doon?

ASEC. QUINTANA: Lahat naman sila pumupunta sa Embahada ‘yung mga merong gustong i-request ‘no, sinasabi nila kung ano ang kanilang desire. And tinutugma lang ‘yun kung ano ‘yung — ‘yung procedure for amnesty kung sila ba ay qualified. But there’s about maybe four major categories of who can avail eh.

So it’s really up to them, but this is, of course, something that they have to avail of if they have violated any of the border security laws, for example, overstaying their visa, for example, absconding.

One very good point about that amnesty is that it’s also going to favor those who have children, undocumented children including the mothers.

So I think you know the humanitarian aspect of that amnesty program that could also be beneficial for some of these people.

Mr. Tinaza: Last point. Kailan daw matatapos ‘yung 90 days na — ?

ASEC. QUINTANA: Nag-start po ng March 29. So 90 days after that.

Mr. Tinaza: Okay, thank you.

Ron Gagalac (ABS-CBN): Ma’am tungkol pa rin po doon sa amnesty. Marami kasing mga Filipino ayaw nilang bumalik in the fear of they don’t have any livelihood if they go back here, so they would rather overstay in the Middle East. Ano po ang efforts ng government to have them repatriated? At ilan na po ba, ma’am, ‘yung, since the amnesty started, ilan na po ‘yung nakauwi ng Pilipinas?

ASEC. QUINTANA: I don’t have the information on how many have come back. But in terms of the… Ano ba ‘yung first ulit?

Mr. Gagalac: How are you to able to convince po ‘yung ibang Filipinos to go back home?

ASEC. QUINTANA: Well, itong bagong programa ng Saudi government from what I have read does not ban them from returning. Kaya medyo paborable kasi hindi na sila ipi-fingerprint ‘no.

Basta mag-volunteer lang sila to go there and they won’t be asked to pay fines or penalties, ‘yung mga exit fines. And they can actually be allowed to return but on a legal work visa.

Mr. Gagalac: Ma’am, it doesn’t necessarily na meron sila Iqama so they could go out of the, sample is KSA?

ASEC. QUINTANA:  Iyong… It would be assessed on a case-to-case basis ‘no. But karamihan actually ng magbe-benipisyo nito ‘yung mga nag-overstay because of the Hajj and Umrah, there’s quite a number.

And the absconding, absconders also. Those who have lost the employment also are going to benefit. In other words these are of no fault of their own sometimes ‘no or… So depende ho, it’s a case by case basis.

Like for example ‘yung sa Hajj, sa Umrah from — again from what I have read, they are free to just leave. They don’t even have to be processed.

Mr. Gagalac: Ma’am, ‘yung unpaid workers hindi po kasama, ma’am, doon sa amnesty?

ASEC. QUINTANA: Pwede silang makasama actually doon kasi ‘yung iba doon nawalan na rin ng Iqama

‘di ba? Iyong iba doon eh nag-overstay na rin. So again, you know, that’s a different case.

Those who have been stranded are also being given assistance by the Saudi government. From our latest reports, the Saudi government has, through the Ministry of Justice, has really provided government appointed lawyers to handle their claims for back pay.

And the King himself has issued a directive that these cases should be prioritized.

Mr. Gagalac: Ma’am, last na lang, ‘yung repatriation, it will shouldered by the government?

ASEC. QUINTANA: For the amnesty?

Mr. Gagalac: Yes, ma’am.

ASEC. QUINTANA: Case by case din siguro ‘yun. Titingnan din siguro kung alin ‘yung pwede at alin ‘yung hindi. There are guidelines on the use of funds so yeah.

Ms. Yu: Ma’am, may demand pa ba ng Filipino workers sa Middle East kung bagsak ‘yung economy ngayon doon?

ASEC. QUINTANA: I think that’s what we really would like to highlight, that in my area of work for example, this is — the trend that we are seeing is that these countries are diversifying. They are diversifying and lessening their dependence on oil.

So… But in any diversification program, merong naki-create na bagong opportunities and that’s why we need to really understand what’s going on in that region. 

Because while of course, some sectors are being affected, new sectors are being created. And not only that if you have a diversification program that will try to bring money outside, you know for investments then that’s again an opportunity for us here in the Philippines.

You know more investment could come in because they need to put their money towards, you know, more income generating businesses.

So we’re looking at that possibility and that’s why there are also in the same visits of these three countries there are trade and investment forums that will be held side by side which are being handled by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Ms. Yu: Ma’am, from DFA’s point of view, ideal pa ba na — will you still advise the Filipino workers to work doon sa Middle East?

ASEC. QUINTANA: Yes. You know travelling in this region really open your eyes to many possibilities. Sometimes, of course, there are OFWs that will encounter some trouble.

But if you put that into a context of how many are there in these regions at the moment, I would probably say that there are still, you know, some good things that we can expect. 

Of course as I said, you know, when oil prices go down there are sectors, and when you actually… For example, Saudi Vision 2030, if you look at that socio-economic plan, you can actually see, you know, where you can align your interests in terms on investments, in terms of tourism development, in terms of food security, for example.

So there many areas really that we can explore for cooperation.

Ms. Yu: Thank you, ma’am.

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