By Irfan Mohammed
JEDDAH — The Philippine community in the Kingdom is eagerly awaiting the forthcoming visit of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to Riyadh next week. The three-day visit will begin on Monday, diplomatic sources in Riyadh confirmed.
Duterte is keen to meet the maximum number of his countrymen during the visit in order to thank them for voting him to office.
The sources told Saudi Gazette that a community meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 12, at a leading hotel in Riyadh.
Preparations for the meeting are in full swing, they added.
The Philippine Embassy will invite around 2,500 leaders of community organizations and officials of Philippine schools across the Kingdom. “We are eager and looking forward to meet with the president next week in Riyadh,” said Gerwin Sundungan, a social worker and OFW Global activist in Jeddah.
Around 200 community leaders from Jeddah alone will meet the president in Riyadh, said Sundungan, who has received an invitation to attend the meeting.
“We feel that OFWs can partner with government in investment projects in the Philippines,” said Ray Umel, national coordinator for Saudi Arabia of PRRD, an umbrella organization for Filipinos who supported the president.
As the president is committed to bring development to the nation, OFWs can contribute their rich expertise in technology which they gained working in the Kingdom, he told Saudi Gazette.
“We hope that in coming years the number of OFWs would dwindle as the growth rate is improving in the country under the leadership of Duterte,” said Alex Veloso Bello, president of OFW Congress in Riyadh.
He has said the Philippine community has great expectations from the president and it sincerely believes in all of his efforts, especially in favor of OFWs.
This is the first time Duterte is visiting the Kingdom after winning the presidential elections of May 2016. He had won 76.55 percent of valid votes polled in Kingdom, the highest majority of any leader. His election campaign was largely funded by the Filipino community in the Kingdom.
No other president enjoyed such widespread OFW support as Duterte did. Looking after the welfare of OFWs was on top of his campaign promises. His first order to the Department of Foreign Affairs as newly elected president was the improvement of services for OFWs. He ordered cash assistance of SR5.3 million to OFWs employed by crisis-hit construction companies in the Kingdom.
Duterte is from Davao, Mindanao, from where a significant number of OFWs working in Saudi Arabia, especially in its western region, hail from.