Saudi king hailed PH true friend
The Philippines on Friday extended its condolences and sympathies to Saudi Arabia over the death of King Abdullah, whom Philippine officials described as a “courageous, generous and visionary leader.”
A true friend of the Philippines, he was the first Saudi king who contributed his own money to save an overseas Filipino worker.
Abdullah, son of King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, died in a hospital early Friday at age 90.
The royal court did not disclose the exact cause of death, but an announcement quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency said the king had a lung infection when he was admitted on Dec. 31 to a Riyadh hospital.
The king was buried in Riyadh on Friday afternoon.
Philippine officials said King Abdullah worked to improve conditions for Filipino migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.
Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos work in Saudi Arabia, fleeing high rates of poverty and joblessness at home to look for better job opportunities.
“The King’s receptiveness to the concerns of the Filipino government helped to improve the welfare and prospects of our countrymen in Saudi Arabia,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters in Malacañang.
Pardoning condemned OFWs
Valte cited Abdullah’s pardoning of condemned Filipino prisoners and agreeing on a standard work contract for members of Saudi Arabia’s imported workforce.
She said Abdullah “reached into his own coffers” to help imprisoned Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, including paying “blood money” in 2013 to save the life of Rodelio Celestino Lanuza, who had been on death row for more than 12 years for stabbing to death Mohamad Al Qahtani in June 2000.
Valte said the king shouldered the SR2.3 million (P27 million) of the SR3 million (P35 million) indemnity demanded by the family of the victim. The Philippine government and supporters of Lanuza could raise only SR700,000 (P8 million).
Vice President Jejomar Binay, President Aquino’s adviser on migrant workers’ affairs who worked to save Lanuza, described Abdullah’s kindness and compassion as extraordinary.
“He was the first Saudi king who contributed blood money to save the life of an overseas Filipino worker,” Binay said in a statement.
“We share in the grief of the entire nation of Saudi Arabia and mourn the loss of a great friend of Filipinos,” Binay said.
Legalizing worker status
Abdullah also gave Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia a chance to “correct their status,” Valte said, referring to the king’s agreeing to the extension more than once of the deadline for foreign workers to correct their residency or work status in order to legalize their stay in the kingdom.
During a state visit to Saudi Arabia in 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo sought clemency for 50 Filipino workers imprisoned there. King Abdullah pardoned them and Arroyo brought them home on a chartered plane.
“These actions will be remembered by our government, and by those who were positively affected by [King Abdullah’s] decisions and efforts,” she said.
The late King was a “courageous, generous and visionary leader who introduced policy changes in education and infrastructure,” the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement.
A close and influential ally of the United States, Abdullah joined the fight against extremism and brought reforms to Saudi Arabia, including opening opportunities for women, the DFA said.
“Under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia strengthened its contributions as a positive force in the global economy,” it said.
Abdullah’s passing is a profound loss not only for Saudi Arabia and the Islamic world, but also for the community of responsible nations, it said.
The Muslim community remembered Abdullah’s generosity toward Muslim Mindanao.
With Abdullah’s guidance, Saudi Arabia channeled funds to the International Red Crescent, which worked with the International Red Cross to deliver aid to the survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) in 2013.
Saudi Arabia is funding the concreting of 68.6 kilometers of secondary roads in Mindanao. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said the projects cost P2.38 billion.
Regional Secretary Emil Sadain of the DPWH in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said the projects included the Cotabato City East Diversion Road, estimated to cost P709.03 million; Lake Lanao Circumferential Road, from Marawi City to Bayang town in Lanao del Sur province, P421.6 million; Lake Lanao Circumferential Road, from Bayang to Ganassi town, P420.3 million; Basilan Circumferential Road, from Isabela town to Tumahubong town, P414.9 million; and Basilan Circumferential Road, from Isabela to Sumisip town, P415.2 million.
ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the 25-kilometer Basilan Circumferential Road would enhance “economic activities in the island province and complement current and proposed development projects.”
The Cotabato City East Diversion Road will decongest traffic in the area. Its development involves the construction of an initial 13.8 km of road, as well as three permanent bridges with a combined length of 495 meters, according to a DPWH report on projects funded by Saudi Arabia.
The 29.8-km Lake Lanao Circumferential Road, which would link the interior villages and the markets in the town center, would speed up the economic development of Lanao del Sur, the report said.
Saudi Arabia, through the Islamic Development Bank, has also funded the college education of dozens of poor Muslim students in the Philippines. It has also given research and development funds for science and technology courses in Philippine schools.
Muslims in Manila
The Grand Imam and Ulama Council of the Philippines International Foundation Inc. said its projects, including a new mosque in Manila’s Quiapo district and the Philippines’ first Islamic university, which could rise on the site of the old GSIS compound in the city, were all recognized by Abdullah.
The Diamond Mosque will be built beside Manuel L. Quezon University on R. Hidalgo Street. It will have two stories and will be able to accommodate 5,000 men and 5,000 women. Groundbreaking is set for next month.
Samson Tocino, the foundation’s treasurer, said that when news of Abdullah’s death broke yesterday the group launched a “text brigade” urging Muslims to pray for the king.
Jupakar Arabani, chair of the Manila Muslim Affairs Coordinating Council, said the Muslim community in the city also offered prayers for the late king.
“We prayed that King Abdullah’s soul may enter heaven, and that his successor would follow in his footsteps, since King Abdullah was a follower of the Koran’s teachings,” Arabani said.
The militant group Migrante in the Middle East, an organization of Filipino migrant workers also expressed condolences to Saudi Arabia.
“We see that the new king will continue to implement existing policies and plans of King Abdullah. We hope that the new king will spearhead and initiate reforms on the labor front and respect for human rights, including for the so-called third country nationals,” John Leonard Monterona, head of Migrante Middle East said.
The new king visited the Philippines in 1998.
Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, a former Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said Salman met with President Fidel Ramos and other Philippine officials during his visit.
Before becoming crown prince, Salman served as governor of Riyadh province for 48 years.
Seguis said Salman had been helpful to him during his tenure in Saudi Arabia. Filipino diplomats had an “open access” to Salman when he was governor of Riyadh, Seguis said.
“He assisted me in every way he could. He was the person I could go to when I needed help,” Seguis said in a telephone interview.
“Most of the staff in his office in Riyadh at the time were Filipinos. Now that he is the king, we can move on with better Philippines-Saudi Arabia relations,” he said. With reports from Annelle Tayao-Juego in Manila; Nash B. Maulana, Inquirer Mindanao; AP; AFP
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