Opening Remarks by the Acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs

The past 10 years have seen remarkable changes in the global arena with the emergence of new political and security, economic, and social realities and challenges, particularly in the Middle East: the Arab Spring and its aftermath; the wars in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen; terrorism and counter-terrorism efforts; the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS; transnational crime; proxy wars, shift in traditional alliances; labor migration; shale oil revolution; problems in the oil market, just to name a few.

Though beset with problems and challenges, the Middle East has been and remains the destination of choice of Overseas Filipino Workers. Of the 10 top destinations in 2015, six (6) are in the Middle East and all six (6) are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Three (3) of which, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, are the countries the President is visiting this April. (While the second top destination, the UAE, is looking forward to welcoming the President in May.)

In terms of remittances, the Middle East is the second largest source, with 28% or almost 7.6 Billion US dollars remitted from the region in 2016. Out of that 28%, more than a third or 10% was remitted by OFWs based in Saudi Arabia, the second top source of remittance. (It is said that the number 1 spot is held by the United States as many remittances from different parts of the world go through US banks.) Along with Saudi Arabia, 3 more Gulf States are in the top 10 countries as source of remittances – the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait.

According to the Department of Energy, Eighty-seven percent (87%) of the total crude mix (68,537 MB) was sourced from the Middle East, of which 36.1 percent (28,438 MB) came from Saudi Arabia, the top supplier of crude oil into the country.

It is clear that the Middle East, or the Gulf States in particular, despite the economic challenges they are currently facing from reduced revenues due to low oil prices, remains an important region for the Philippines. It is in fact, now in their time of need, that the Philippines and our OFWs already positioned in the region, become significant partners in the region’s move to diversify their economies.

The three (3) Objectives of the President’s visit, in a nut shell, may be framed within these three words – PEOPLE, PROGRESS AND PARTNERSHIPS.

Foremost consideration of this visit are our PEOPLE – the Filipinos – working in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar. It is hoped that the President’s visit, the first in the region in this decade since there was none during the previous administration, will promote the welfare and reaffirm the dignity of our OFWs as nurturers, bridges between cultures, and the host state’s partners in development as they have always been since Filipino Engineers started flocking the region in the late 60s and early 70s. Filipino brains and hands built the cities that the President is visiting – Riyadh, Manama and Doha.

For PROGRESS, the visit aims to present the Philippines as a viable destination for investments. They need to understand that their partners in growing their economies are not only the OFWs they are hosting, but the 100 million talented and hardworking Filipinos here at home.

Finally, for PARTNERSHIPS, it will be to the Philippines and the Filipinos’ benefit if we elevate our diplomatic relations with these countries and explore avenues for further political, security and economic cooperation.