MANILA: The Philippines has lauded Saudi Arabia’s commitment to compensate some 10,000 unpaid Filipino migrant workers, which was announced after a meeting between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
More than 700,000 Filipinos live in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is the most popular destination for overseas Filipino workers, followed by the UAE and Kuwait.
Marcos and the crown prince met for the first time on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leader’s meeting in Thailand on Friday, during which the Kingdom announced that it has set aside SR2 billion ($532 million) to pay the overdue salaries of thousands of Filipinos working overseas.
“That’s really good news. And the crown prince really prepared it. He said that decision was made only a few days ago because we were going (to meet) and he said this was his gift,” Marcos said after the meeting.
His talks with the crown prince had focused on investment and the welfare of Filipino migrant workers in the Kingdom, the president added.
Around 10,000 Filipinos were working for various Saudi companies that declared bankruptcy in 2015 and 2016, leaving their workers unpaid. The Saudi pledge comes after the Philippines earlier this month resumed deployment of overseas Filipino workers, including house helpers and construction workers, to the Kingdom.
Venecio Legaspi, an assistant secretary at the Philippine Department of Migrant Workers, told Arab News on Saturday that the Philippine government was “happy with the announcement.”
“We can see that the relationship between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia is really getting better now,” Legaspi said. “This is very good news.”
Legaspi, who had worked in Jeddah for 29 years, said officials from the two countries will now work on fine-tuning the technical details.
“So, it will not be immediately available. There is still a process … but coming from the president and the crown prince himself. I’ve been in Saudi for almost 30 years — when the Arabs speak, they stand by their word, especially coming from the crown prince,” Legaspi said.
Filipino lawmaker Marissa Magsino, from the One Filipino Worldwide group established for the benefit of overseas Filipino workers, also hailed the latest development.
“We are happy because our workers will finally receive their salaries which they worked hard for,” she told Arab News. “It will be a beautiful Christmas gift for (them).”
About 80 percent of the Philippines’ 111 million population are Catholic.
Filipino migrant workers who were affected when the Saudi companies in question went bankrupt also lauded the Kingdom’s gesture on Saturday.
“It will be a big help for me,” 64-year-old Homer Manalili told Arab News. “Because of my age, I can no longer (find) work.”
Edwin Caling, a 59-year-old electrical engineer, said he will use the money for his children’s education.
“It’s really an indescribable joy, because it’s been so long — for almost seven years — that we’ve been hoping to receive that news,” Caling said. “It will really be a merry Christmas and happy new year for us.”