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Duterte back in PH, says ME visit his ‘most productive trip ever’

By: - Reporter / @NikkoDizonINQ
/ 07:10 AM April 17, 2017
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President Rodrigo Duterte hands P5000 cash assistance from OWWA to the repatriated OFWs from Saudi Arabia. He was assisted by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo. Photo by Nikko Dizon

President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Manila early Monday morning from a three-country visit in the Middle East, calling it his “most productive trip ever.”

 But citing protocol, as well as the sensitivity of some security issues, Mr. Duterte said he could not divulge the specifics of his discussions with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain. 

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The President’s main audience at his arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) were the 138 undocumented Filipinos who were granted amnesty by the Saudi government.

“Kayo talaga pinuntahan ko. Hindi ko masabi lahat ng pinagusapan, but I gave too many concessions because it is to the national interest of the Republic of the Philippines. Hindi ko masabi lahat,” the President said. 

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Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told reporters that in Qatar, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez was able to enter into agreements and business ventures that would “generate $250 million and 16,000 jobs.”

According to government aides, of the repatriated Filipinos, 20 were children. The group made the nine-hour flight from Riyadh to Manila via the special Saudia Airlines flight made under the auspices of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The OFWs’ Saudia plane landed a few minutes before the President’s Philippine Airlines (PAL) PR 001 flight at the Naia.

In his speech, Mr. Duterte said he was “thankful” that the Filipino workers were “home safely,” as he also expressed gratitude for their help to the Philippine country, emphasizing that their remittances have always kept the economy afloat.

Mr. Duterte mulled the construction of a “small general hospital” for OFWs in the Middle East and vowed to look for the money to fund it. He also promised to “spend” and “look for the money” for the repatriation of distressed OFWs.

 The President said government would help the returning OFWs learn new livelihood by providing them with training and financial assistance.

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 “You can now be with your families and loved ones; we know your hard work and sacrifice. I have directed relevant government agencies to assist you as you turn a new chapter in your life. Salamat sa tulong na inyong naibigay sa bayan,” he said.

 The President also announced an additional P5,000 cash assistance on top of the P5,000 from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

 It is unclear, however, where the additional money would come from.

 In his speech, the President said: “You have two five thousands. Ang sa OWWA P5,000. Tapos yung akin, akin ito P5,000 so you have P10,000 ang baon ninyo.”

 The OFWs cheered. The President, assisted by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, distributed small envelopes with P5,000. The children were given chocolates.

 Reporters asked Bello if indeed, the additional P5,000 would come from Mr. Duterte’s personal money, as he mentioned the “akin ito.”

Bello clarified that the President meant funds from another government agency, like the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

In fact, OWWA chief Hans Leo Cacdac said he had the money with him, pointing to a medium-sized brown envelope that he held to his chest while Bello was being interviewed.

Hundreds of stranded OFWs had days earlier arrived in the country, returning under Saudi Arabia’s “A Nation Without Illegal Expatriates” campaign, which allows undocumented workers to return to their home countries within 90 days without risk of detention.

From the airport, Mr. Duterte was scheduled to head to Batangas to visit the wake of one of the soldiers killed in the clash with Abu Sayyaf militants in Bohol, a popular tourist destination.

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Not a few OFWs were emotional on their return to Manila from Saudi Arabia. Photo by Nikko Dizon

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