MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte thanked Saudi Arabia for its hospitality toward Filipinos in the Kingdom, as he welcomed the new Saudi ambassador to Manila.
The new Saudi envoy, Hisham bin Sultan Al-Qahtani, presented his credentials to the Philippine president on Wednesday.
“I thank the Saudi Arabian government for the hospitality extended to the almost a million Filipinos in the Kingdom, including the free COVID-19 vaccination offered by your government,” Duterte told the envoy during a livestreamed ceremony at the presidential palace, Malacanang.
He also expressed his gratitude to Saudi authorities for repatriating hundreds of overseas Filipino workers stranded in the Kingdom by the coronavirus disease pandemic.
“The repatriation of the 645 distressed Filipinos in June shows the continuing partnership between our countries in upholding the welfare of OFWs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am hopeful that Your Excellency will continue to strengthen this most important pillar of our bilateral relations,” Duterte said.
He added he was also looking forward to expanding cooperation with Saudi Arabia, particularly in trade and investment during Al-Qahtani’s tenure.
“We hope to improve the bilateral trade and investment exchanges as well as the transportation and travel cooperation between the Philippines and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during your tenure,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has been providing aid to the Philippines to help it fight the pandemic and also to rebuild Marawi City, and Duterte conveyed his appreciation for the support.
“I convey my appreciation for the pledge of support for our efforts against COVID-19 and in the rehabilitation of Marawi City,” he said.
Marawi, a predominantly Muslim lakeside town on the island of Mindanao, was taken by pro-Daesh militants in May 2017 and suffered widespread damage during five months of fighting as government forces tried to regain control. The conflict between government forces and the militants left at least 1,200 people dead, while the once-bustling city was flattened, displacing more than 100,000 residents.
As he presented his credentials, the Saudi envoy vowed to take Philippine-Saudi ties to a new height.
“During my term, I would exert my efforts to expand and deepen friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation, enhance the mutual understanding and friendship between the governments and the peoples, and bring the relations of the Philippines and Saudi Arabia to a new height,” Al-Qahtani told Duterte.
Al-Qahtani’s appointment comes as Manila and Riyadh celebrate 52 years of diplomatic relations on Sunday.
Aside from Al-Qahtani, Duterte also received the credentials of the new ambassadors of the UK, UAE, Italy, Sweden, Israel, and Malta.