President Rodrigo R. Duterte has expressed strong intent to reciprocate the remittances overseas Filipinos (OFs) have been sending home, and the landslide vote they gave him in last year’s general elections.
“Tutulong ako sa inyo bilang pagbayad sa tulong nyo sa bayan. Magpakamatay kami sa inyo,” Duterte said during a 3am briefing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 1shortly after his plane touched down on April 17 following a week-long official visit to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.
Duterte and his delegation spoke to some 2,000 OFs at the Riyadh Marriott Hotel, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on April 12, 2017; he met with about 4,000 OFs who gathered at the Khalifa Sports Complex in Bahrain on April 14; and some 7,500 OFs at the Lusail Sports Arena in Lusail City, Qatar on April 15, 2017.
“I am really gratified by the huge crowd,” the president said. “Maski saan ako pumunta anduon sila, mga Pilipino. Gusto ko ngang lumuhod. Thank you for helping the country. Malaki ‘yan. Di nyo lang alam, malaki ang tinutulong nyo sa bayan,” he added.
Duterte also noted how the OF swing vote has immensely contributed to his victory in last year’s presidential race.
“Sa lahat ng OFWs, naglandslide ako. All in all, ang average ko was 77% sa lahat ng boto ko mula sa inyo. Salamat ha,” he said, speaking before some 150 repatriated OFs from Saudi Arabia, who arrived almost simultaneously with him in Manila.
Duterte said his trip, done from April 10 to 16, has been the “most productive” compared to previous ones he had done in other parts of the world.
“It is in the national interest to realize,” he said, “na merong more than a million Filipinos there.”
“That’s why at every state I visited and to every head of state that I talked to, inii-stress ko yan: There is so much at stake here; and that we are very much interested to see your nation be stable, trouble-free and a good neighbor to everybody. The region is home to the largest number of OFs in the world,” Duterte said.
“It’s a very troubled world there. I hope it will not spill to the countries I have visited,” he added.
At the crux of the matter is the estimated 1.4 million overseas Filipinos in the region, which comprise approximately 60 percent of the total 2.4 million OFs around the world, as figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed.
OFs in the Middle East sent home almost $6 billion in 2015 or 23% of total remittances from across the globe, according to Philippine Central Bank (PCB) records.
OF remittances comprise a significant part of the Philippine GDP. Said Xpress Money, a global remittance firm: “Money transfers from Filipinos working all over the world account for at least 10-percent of the country’s GDP, the second largest source of foreign capital after value-added exports like electronic components, and a major source of private consumption which in turn accounts for 75% of the GDP.”
OFs in the Gulf region as well contributed immensely to Duterte’s victory in the presidential race. In the UAE alone, Duterte won by a huge landslide, garnering 51,879 – or 83.5% – of the total 62,103 actual votes cast, according to the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
Duterte also got almost 60% of the total votes in Jeddah, and some 64% total votes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In all, Duterte got 313,300 votes from OFs, the most number of sectoral swing votes, according to the Commission on Elections.
High on the president’s post-Gulf trip agenda is the creation of OF hospitals in the Middle East, “no matter how small,” he said, and a continuing repatriation program for distressed and stranded OFs, who, according to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, are “mostly runaways.”
Duterte also announced a small- and medium-scale livelihood program even as he assured that returning OFs wouldn’t need to have their luggage and boxes opened by Customs officers at the airport back home.
The president said these are “small things” compared to the OFs’ sacrifices made working abroad.
“Ang gusto ko yung ospital at yung maka-uwi yung mga distressed. Unahin yung mga may sakit. At one time or another, during the productive years of their lives, they helped us very much,” said the president.
“Kailangang magbayad tayo. I will give them (OFs) the primary importance. I will look for the money. Yung pinapadala nila sa bayan natin, malaki masyado. Importante na mabayaran naman natin sila ng kahit konti,” Duterte added.
As for the opening of the OFs’ luggage, he said, “Deretso lang kayo. ‘Pag binuksan, raise hell. Kapag mayor, kahit isang train ang bagahe, waved through lang. Eh lalo na mga OFWs.”
In Dubai meantime, organizers said they are awaiting a formal letter from Malacanang about a May 22-23 visit by the president, adding that they are looking at the Hamdan Multipurpose Sports Arena as the venue. “We are expecting definitely a bigger number,” organizers said.