Rodrigo Duterte, Philippine's controversial president, starts Arab Gulf tour

Rodrigo Duterte, Philippine's controversial president, starts Arab Gulf tour
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte will discuss investment opportunities and the welfare of Filipino workers during his tour in the Gulf, including in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.
3 min read
11 April, 2017
Duterte arrived on Monday night in Saudi Arabia [Anadolu]

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrived on Monday night in Saudi Arabia, the first leg of a Gulf tour that will also take him to Bahrain and Qatar.

In Saudi Arabia, economic troubles forced the repatriation of thousands of Duterte's citizens still waiting for their salaries, an issue expected to be at the top of the agenda for his talks.

Filipino organisations in the Gulf kingdom, which still hosts almost 800,000 workers from the Southeast Asian nation, said the unpaid wages would be on the agenda when they meet Duterte during his two-day Riyadh stop.

The issue is included in a petition which Saudi-based Filipino workers plan to present Duterte on Wednesday, said Florante Catanus, vice-president of the All Filipino Community and Sports Commission, an umbrella group.

A drop in global oil prices by about half since 2014 created a Saudi budget deficit of $79 billion last year, with billions owed by the government to private firms it had contracted, chiefly in the construction sector.

"So many Filipinos were laid off. So they were sent home and they were not able to get money" the companies owed them, said Catanus, whose group is based in Eastern Province.

He said more than 5,000 workers were repatriated and are still owed back wages.

Saudi officials have taken legal action on behalf of the unpaid employees from the Philippines and other Asian countries in an effort to recover their wages, even if the workers have returned to their homelands.

"They're still waiting for their money," said Resty Sibug, commander of the Riyadh chapter of the Knights of Rizal, a community organisation.

He said some of those repatriated have demonstrated in the Philippines to push their case, which is expected to come up when his and other community groups meet Duterte on Tuesday.

Duterte's Gulf tour will also take him to Bahrain and Qatar, home to more than 300,000 other Filipino workers.

Assistant Foreign Secretary Hjayceelyn Quintana told reporters that workers' welfare would be a focus of Duterte's talks with Saudi King Salman, King Hamad of Bahrain and Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar.

"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 of economic and political cooperation," Quintana told reporters ahead of Duterte's mission.

Gulf-based Filipinos, employed in a wide range of occupations from management to trades work and waiting on tables, are among 10 million of their countrymen working overseas for salaries they cannot get at home.

The money they remit is a major pillar of the Philippine economy.

War on drugs

Some of the areas identified for closer collaboration with the Gulf states include security, countering terrorism and combating illicit drugs.

His Gulf tour comes amid a violent government crackdown back home against drug addicts and peddlers. Some groups estimate that Duterte's war on drugs has claimed up to 7,000 lives since the President took office in June last year.

He recently threatened to humiliate his country's leading newspaper and TV networks and their owners, whom he accused of distorting news of his anti-drug crackdown, which has alarmed Western governments and prompted UN rights officials to consider an investigation.

Duterte, who has denied condoning extrajudicial killings but has repeatedly threatened drug suspects with death, has lashed out at the US, EU and other critics.