Duterte back with 139 undocumented Pinoys
President Duterte arrived in Manila early on Monday from a three-country visit to 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.
The President’s main audience at Ninoy Aquino International Airport were the 139 undocumented Filipinos who were granted amnesty by the Saudi government.
“That … [was my] most productive trip ever … ,” Mr. Duterte said, cut off by applause from his audience.
“You are the real reason why we went there. I cannot disclose all that we have discussed. But I gave so many concessions because I said it [was] to the national interest of the Republic of the Philippines,” he said.
He added that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar were “very much, more than willing really to help the Filipinos.”
The repatriated migrant workers comprised of 65 women and 20 children who came from Bahay Kalinga (women’s shelter) and 54 men who resided in Estiraha (men’s shelter), including 16 walk-ins at the Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia.
The 90-day Saudi Arabian amnesty program was launched on March 29. On the same day, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III deployed a team to gather the migrants who had accepted amnesty.
In a statement, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) said that due to the goodwill generated by Mr. Duterte’s visit, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud chartered a plane to fly the migrants home to the Philippines for free and at no cost to the government in Manila.
The Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) and Owwa repatriation team assisted the migrants at the airport, with the agency also providing them services, including temporary shelter at the Owwa Halfway Home, psychosocial counseling and stress debriefing, and transport.
Each migrant, whether active or inactive Owwa member, received P5,000 cash assistance from the Office of the President as well as P5,000 additional assistance from the Dole and Owwa.
In his speech, Mr. Duterte said he was “thankful” that the Filipino workers were “home safely.”
He also expressed gratitude for their help to the Philippines, emphasizing that their remittances have always kept the economy afloat.
Mr. Duterte said he was considering the construction of a “small general hospital” for Filipino migrant workers in the Middle East and vowed to look for the money to fund it. He promised to “spend” and “look for the money” for the repatriation of distressed Filipino migrant workers.
The President said the government would help the returning migrants learn new livelihoods by providing them with training and financial assistance.
“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. Thank you for your contribution to the economy,” he said.
Billions for aid
Mr. Duterte said he was willing to give billions of pesos to assist migrants, but not having to give a billion pesos for the rehabilitation of drug addicts.
“I really feel bad about giving that one billion to drug addicts, those sons of bitches. But I have to help them because they are Filipinos, although they contribute nothing to the nation,” he said.
San Miguel Corp. contributed P1 billion last year to build rehabilitation centers to complement Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.
Mr. Duterte asked the distressed migrants how they were going back to their home provinces. Then he told them to line up and that he would buy them tickets “and you can board the plane.”
It was then that the P10,000 assistance for each migrant was announced. The migrants cheered.
The President, assisted by Bello and Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, distributed small envelopes containing cash. The children were given chocolates.
Bello told reporters that Mr. Duterte considered his Middle East trip “very productive” because of the reactions of the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, who were “very demonstrative to our country.”
In Qatar, he said, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez entered into agreements and business ventures that would “generate $250 million and 16,000 jobs.” —WITH A REPORT FROM TINA G. SANTOS
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