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Duterte vows to bring home OFWS pardoned in Middle East

President Duterte on Monday vowed to fly home overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who had been pardoned in different countries in the Middle East as he embarked on his first trip to the Gulf states.

“If given the clearance, I will fly them home. With me upon my return would be those who were given clemency or pardon,” the President said in Davao City shortly before leaving for the Middle East.

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With his scheduled meeting with the leaders of three Gulf states, the President said an agreement aimed at providing more protection to OFWs against abuses was being considered.

Some 5,000 pardoned OFWs in the Middle East would be repatriated by the Philippine government, he said.

Meeting with monarchs

Mr. Duterte, who will be meeting the monarchs of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, said his first visit was “a mission to forge deeper, more meaningful and more positive engagement with the Middle East.”

“There is much [at] stake [in] the Philippines’ relations with the Middle East. It is a global center of traditional energy resource. It is a source of investment with the potential of much growth. It is an expanding [market] for key Philippine products and services and is home to the largest group of Filipinos working overseas,” he said.

The President is set to meet King Salman bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh to discuss “ways to broaden cooperation in security and defense, trade and investments, antinarcotics, labor, energy, education and culture.”

In his meeting with Bahraini Emir Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Mr. Duterte said he hoped to expand the friendship and tap into converging interest to intensify trade and investment between Manila and Manama.

He said he would seek greater cooperation and collaboration with Qatar in his meeting with Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in Doha, particularly in the field of health and culture.

Peace in Mindanao

“I will seek support to our efforts to bring just and lasting peace in Mindanao,” Mr. Duterte said of his first visit to the Middle East.

He is also scheduled to meet Filipinos in the three Gulf states. “I am excited to see and thank them for the support for our efforts to bring reform and change in our country,” he said.

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There are about 760,000 Filipinos living in Saudi Arabia, around 60,000 in Bahrain and 250,000 in Qatar.

Aside from labor, foreign relations and economic cooperation, illegal drugs and terrorism may be among the topics that the President will discuss with the Saudi king during their meeting on Tuesday.

Like the Philippines, Saudi Arabia has to contend with the entry and use of illegal drugs among foreigners, including Filipinos, according to Consul General Iric Arribas. —WITH A REPORT FROM JULIE M. AURELIO

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