Duterte eyes a hospital for OFWs in Middle East

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 17)  — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday revealed plans to build a hospital for Overseas Filipino Workers in the Middle East.

Speaking after his arrival from Qatar, Duterte — who had just returned from a three-leg trip to the Middle East — said the government is eyeing a Philippine hospital to cater to OFWs in the region.

"Ang hinihingi rin nila is kailangan nila ang ospital [They are asking for a hospital]... We will look for the money and I will ask their permission to establish even just a small — a general hospital to cater to all the health needs of our countrymen," said Duterte.

The President said the hospital is a priority for the government, as there are OFWs in the region who are unable to go home but need medical attention.

The plan is still in the works, and will depend on permission from the Middle Eastern governments.

Repatriation a priority

Duterte announced the hospital plan in front of OFWs who had just flown to the Philippines under the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's amnesty program. A total of 138 OFWs  were repatriated to the Philippines on Monday as a result of meetings between the Saudi government and President Duterte.

READ: EXCLUSIVE: Bello: Over 400 undocumented OFWs in Saudi returning to PH

In his speech, Duterte assured OFWs the government is prioritizing the repatriation of OFWs from the Middle East.

Duterte promised to shell out money so that OFWs — especially those in need of medical attention - are able to come home.

"Lahat ng gustong umuwi na Pilipino doon, makakauwi. Gastusan natin 'yan [Those who want to come home will be able to come home. We will spend for them]... One way of repaying for their sacrifices also back there, just to see that they're back home," the President said.

Nearly 4,000 Filipinos applied for the amnesty program, which grants undocumented foreigners in Saudi Arabia up to 90 days to leave the country without risk of detention.

The Middle East is a top destination for OFWs, with 56.9 percent of OFWs or nearly 1.4 million Filipinos working in Middle Eastern countries in 2015, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. One in four OFWs are based in Saudi Arabia.

Funding for small scale business

Duterte also assured OFWs the government would prioritize their welfare even as they return to the Philippines.

"We know your hard work and sacrifice. I have directed relevant government agencies to assist you as you turn a new chapter of your life. Salamat sa tulong na inyong naibigay sa bayan [thank you for the help you've given the country]," he said.

The repatriated OFWs received ₱10,000 each — ₱5,000 from Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and ₱5,000 from the President.

The President also said OFWs planning to start their own business may visit the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) or its regional offices and secure capital for their business ventures.

Duterte said this was the government's way of repaying OFWs for the sacrifices they'd made for the country.

"So as you will see that your sacrifices there will be repaid here. Kaya tutulong rin ang gobyerno (that's why the government is helping). Since you helped us a lot sa ating economy noon (in our economy then), so tutulong rin kami (we'll help)," said Duterte.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Ina Andolong contributed to this report