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Sunday, October 22, 2023

Marcos back from Asean-GCC Summit

(UPDATE) PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos Jr. returned to the Philippines from the 2023 Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Gulf Cooperation Council (Asean-GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he secured multimillion-dollar investments, pitched the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF), and ensured the welfare of Filipino workers in the Middle East.

Marcos and his delegation arrived at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City aboard the presidential plane at 2:48 p.m. on Saturday.

During the visit, the country bagged a $120 million worth of investment agreement between Saudi Arabia’s Al Rushaid Petroleum Investment Co. and Samsung Engineering NEC Co. Ltd. and the Philippines’ EEI Corp. for construction export services.

MARCOS BONDS WITH PINOYS IN SAUDI ARABIA President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visits the Filipino community in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on Friday night, Oct. 19, 2023. Marcos attended the 2023 Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Gulf Cooperation Council. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

MARCOS BONDS WITH PINOYS IN SAUDI ARABIA President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visits the Filipino community in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on Friday night, Oct. 19, 2023. Marcos attended the 2023 Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Gulf Cooperation Council. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

The Philippines also received a $4.14 investment in pledges from various Arab business leaders.

GCC countries are home to an estimated 2.2 million Filipinos and roughly 2.7 million citizens of Asean member states working in critical fields, providing valuable contributions not only to their host country economies but also to the Philippine and Asean economies.

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The six GCC member countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam comprise the Asean.

In his remarks during the summit on Friday, Marcos said the success of Asean-GCC cooperation is founded on the two organizations’ “vibrant” people-to-people ties.

“It is, therefore, imperative that we ensure the free flow not only of goods, but also primarily of professionals, labor, and services between our regions, as well as their upskilling and the enhancement and protection of their rights and promotions of their welfare,” Marcos said.

“The Philippines remains strongly committed to supporting a meaningful partnership with GCC countries for peace in our regions and the prosperity of our peoples. We cannot overstate the importance that we attach to this partnership between the Asean and the GCC, not only for our regions but for the entire global economy. It is our firm belief that our success will pave the way for all the world toward progress and recovery,” he added.

Labor concerns

On the sidelines of the summit, Marcos met with Kuwaiti Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

During an interview with Philippine media, the President said the resolution of the country’s disagreement with Kuwait was one of the successes of his trip to Saudi Arabia.

Marcos said he had a pull-aside meeting with the Kuwaiti monarch, who told him that he was “displeased” with the present relation between the two countries and that the Philippines need not apologize.

The President said the Crown Prince apologized to him instead, saying he disagreed with what his people were doing.

“The words that he (Crown Prince) used, ‘Do not listen to them. I do not agree with what they have been doing.’ And, in fact, he said, ‘I do not want…There is no reason for you to apologize to us,'” the President said.

“‘We will fix it, and we will make it because we love the Philippines.’ And he said, ‘Because I remember your father,’ Sabi niya (He said), ‘He always supported Kuwait. He always supported us, and we know that you will also always support us; that’s why we will fix this,'” Marcos quoted the Kuwaiti prince as saying. The Kuwait Crown Prince referred to the late president and the incumbent’s namesake, Ferdinand Sr.

The Gulf state suspended the issuance of entry and work visas to Filipinos due to the Philippines’ supposed non-compliance with the labor agreement between the two countries.

In response, the Philippine government temporarily banned the deployment of first-time household service workers to Kuwait following the murder of Jullebee Ranara, whose burnt corpse was found in the desert.

In 2018, the previous administration imposed a temporary deployment ban after the murder of household worker Joan Demafelis.

As of 2022, the estimated number of Filipinos in Kuwait is 279,000, according to the Presidential Communications Office (PCO).

OFWs remittances from Kuwait amounted to $576,059 in 2021 and $579,186 last year, it added.

The President also met with the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince over the back wages of more than 10,000 Filipino workers in the Kingdom who were left jobless after their companies declared bankruptcy in 2015 and 2016.

Marcos said that the Saudi Arabian government is now processing the back wages of the affected OFWs and other details but offered no other details.

“But in concept, in principle, itutuloy talaga nila ‘yung pagbayad doon sa insurance claims ng mga nagtatrabaho sa mga negosyo na nalugi noong nagsara noong Covid (they will continue to pay the insurance claims of those who are working in the business that declared bankruptcy during Covid-19). So, that will continue to go. Matatapos natin ‘yan (We will complete that),” Marcos said.

Last year, the Crown Prince committed some 2 billion riyals to OFWs who were affected when their construction firms went bankrupt.

The President first met with the Crown Prince during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2022.

Saudi Arabia is the third largest source of OFW remittances, although they have declined since 2016. In 2020, the remittances amounted to approximately $1.8 billion, a 14-percent decline compared to $2.1 billion in 2019.

Majority of remittances were from land-based OFWs.

Saudi Arabia and the Philippines established diplomatic relations on Oct. 24, 1969.

The Philippines opened a mission in Jeddah in December 1973, while the Saudi government opened an embassy in Manila a year later.

Maharlika pitch

Marcos also took the opportunity to pitch the government’s Maharlika Investment Fund to Saudi Arabia and to the other Gulf states.

“We introduced to them the Maharlika Investment Fund, and that was, that has proceeded very quickly, and we have gone into, we have already started, we detailed talks with their PIF, which is the equivalent here in Saudi Arabia. It is their investment fund and how we can do it, how we can work together,” Marcos said, referring to the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.

“And it is not only Saudi Arabia; it is also other Gulf countries who have expressed an interest. And I am very encouraged and quite happy by the fact that the reaction that we got from our partners in Saudi Arabia and in other countries has been very, very encouraging at gusto talaga nila na magkaroon, na tumulong at makilahok sating investment dahil naipakita naman natin na magandang invest talaga para sa kanila ito” he added.

Marcos expressed confidence that the MIF is now even more attractive to foreign investors as the country started to introduce it to potential investors.

“I’m confident that once we get it operationalized, once we are able to start talking in detail with not only the investment funds but even private corporations and other governments as well,” Marcos said.

More pledges

The Philippines has also received $4.14 investment pledges from various Arab business leaders.

In his remarks during the roundtable meeting with business leaders on Thursday, Marcos said that more than 15,000 Filipino people will benefit from the $120 million construction agreement in terms of employment opportunities in the construction industry.

The President was referring to the ceremonial signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Saudi’s Al Rushaid Petroleum Investment Co. and Samsung Engineering NEC Co. Ltd. and the Philippines’ EEI Corp. for construction export services worth $120 million.

The MoU was signed shortly after the roundtable meeting between Saudi Arabian business leaders and the Philippine business delegation.

Aside from this, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said that the Al-Jeer Human Resources Co.-ARCO committed with the Association of Philippine Licensed Agencies for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia an investment in a human resource services agreement worth $3.7 billion.

The DTI added that Saudi Arabia’s Maharah Human Resources Company expressed willingness to ink an investment agreement worth $191 million each to the Philippines’ Staffhouse International Resources Corporation and the E-GMP International Corp. for human resource services.

DTI said that more than 200,000 Filipinos will gain employment in the service sector commitments.

Marcos also acknowledged the valuable contributions of the companies that took part in the effort to strengthen the bilateral ties between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, which served as home to over one million Filipino migrant workers.

Marcos also said the meeting was timely as the Philippine economy continues its high growth trajectory, with gross domestic product at 7.6 percent in 2022, the fastest growth rate recorded since 1976.

He also emphasized that the Philippines has posted $9.2 billion in net inflows of foreign direct investments in 2022.

“Our financial and banking sectors are healthy and robust. Our credit rating continues to receive stable and positive investment grades,” Marcos told the business community.

Marcos also assured the business community that the Philippines would remain steadfast in its commitment to continuously supporting current and prospective Saudi Arabian investors. He emphasized that the Philippine government has amended existing laws to further open its economy to foreign investments.

Among the initiatives of the government are the Foreign Investments Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act, Public Service Act, and the Renewable Energy (RE) Act, which aim to attract more foreign investors in the country’s telecommunications, port operations, transportation, and clean energy sectors.

For his part, Saudi Ministry of Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih said that they were looking forward to partnering with the Philippines and boosting the Philippines-Saudi Arabia partnership in terms of finance, energy and petrochemicals, industry and logistics, tourism, real estate development, labor and agriculture.

“We view the Philippines as not only a critical large company that has grown — a very fast country that has grown — very fast, which is important in its own right,” Al-Falih told Marcos and the rest of the Philippine business delegation.

“We also see the Philippines as a bridge to the Asean region and to the rest of Asia, and I trust that you consider Saudi Arabia as well, your excellency, your strategic entry point to the Middle East,” the Ministry of Investment added.

Open doors

Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said the strategic partnership that emerged from the meeting will open doors to new ventures, create job opportunities and further enhance the country’s economic growth.

Romualdez stressed that the Marcos administration is committed to creating a business-friendly environment, streamlining regulatory processes, and ensuring the protection of investors’ rights.

“As speaker of the House of Representatives, I am confident that our legislative body will work closely with the executive branch to implement policies and enact laws that will support and facilitate these investments,” he added.

WITH A REPORT FROM RED MENDOZA

Michael Maren
Michael Maren
Former marine biologist who likes to spend as much time in the tropics as possible, due to a horrible time I once had in Alaska. Brrrr.

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