Duterte vows better lives for OFWs in Saudi

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 14) — President Rodrigo Duterte vowed better working conditions for millions of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia following his state visit there.

The President capped his three-day state visit to the oil-rich kingdom on April 12 by meeting with the Filipino community at the Riyadh Marriott Hotel, the palace said in a statement.

Read: Duterte visiting Middle East on Holy Week

“They have promised to pass legislations, that would really improve... your lives are better than what was before,” Duterte said.

“Marami kaming pinag-usapan. It would take all evening to say them all but in the days to come, malaman din ninyo,” he added.

[Translation: We talked about many things. It would take all evening to say them all, but in the days to come, you'll find out.]

Duterte’s visit to Saudi Arabia comes amid reported cases of abuse or non-payment of salaries of Filipinos by their employers.

On April 12, some 105 Filipinos who were granted amnesty by Saudi Arabia arrived in Manila.

Read: 105 OFWs under Saudi amnesty program back in PH

“It is of our national interest that I visit first the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Nandito yung karamihan ng ating — kayo — ating mga kababayan [A lot of our countrymen — you people — are here]," Duterte told the Filipino audience.

"You are not just citizens of the Republic of the Philippines, you are the assets,” he added

After delivering a lengthy speech, Duterte opened the floor to questions from the audience.

One asked for an update on plans to come up with department solely for overseas Filipino workers’ concerns. Another requested for a Philippine consulate in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia to alleviate the problem of traveling to the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, which was more than 800 kilometers away.

“We’ll give it to them. Bigyan ninyo ako ng tatlong buwan [Give me three months], and you will have it,” the President said.

Filipinos were delighted with some even taking the opportunity to nominate ambassadors.

A video published on the official Presidential Communications Facebook page showed Duterte receiving a warm welcome from Filipinos there. He obliged the crowd by singing a duet with a fellow Filipino to the song “Ikaw.”

Saudi Arabia is a top destination for overseas Filipino workers and home to more than a million of them. A 2016 report by the Philippine Statistics Agency placed the number of Filipinos working there between April to September 2015 at 2.4 million.

Earlier, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who is part of the President’s delegation said his counterpart in the Saudi government agreed to negotiate new rules to improve working conditions for Filipino workers.

Read: Duterte invites Saudi businessmen to invest in PH

“We are meeting with the Minister of Labor regarding the bilateral agreements that we signed,” Bello said in a statement. “These agreements refer to the labor standards that provided our OFWs with rules on better wages, protection from maltreatment, working hours and other labor issues,” he added.