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Arroyo visit boosts ties.

Byline: Rodolfo C. Estimo Jr.

RIYADH: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo met with top Saudi officials at the Conference Palace here yesterday, according to Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Mohammed Ameen Wali.

"Meaningful and fruitful discussions took place between President Arroyo and high-ranking Saudi officials including Agriculture Minister Fahd Balghunaim," said Wali. Arroyo arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday night after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. She's heading a delegation of legislators and members of the Cabinet, including Undersecretary for Special Concerns Rafael E. Seguis, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque, and Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap.

Wali said that discussions included a proposal for Saudi Arabia to invest in food production in the southern Philippines. Last week, House Speaker Prospero Nograles also visited the Kingdom, during which he mentioned this in a meeting with the Filipino community. During his visit, Nograles pushed for Saudi-Philippine partnership to develop some 26,000 hectares of government property in Central Mindanao into a major agro-industrial production and processing complex. With the help of the Saudi government and Saudi agribusiness investors, this is expected to begin the economic development process for Muslim Mindanao and greatly help promote a sustainable peace in the island.

A high Saudi delegation will be going to the Philippines in April to continue talks with the Philippine government. In return, a Filipino delegation will also visit Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter further. The two sides also discussed labor concerns, especially the OFWs' welfare and how the number of Filipinos working in Saudi Arabia could be increased. In view of the many Saudi projects in the pipeline, such as the different megacities, Arroyo promised to send more Filipino manpower to the Kingdom.

In this connection, Wali said that Filipino construction firms would also come to the Kingdom to take part in the massive developmental projects. Arroyo met with Filipino executives and other guests at the Mabini Hall Monday night.

Those present included James G. Oliver of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), Usman Navarro of the Philippine National Bank (PNB) and Romy Sinamban. Members of the Mindanao Integrated Economic Forum were also present. Arroyo said that her meeting with Saudi authorities has shown that Filipino workers in the Kingdom are good and reliable. The president greeted Ambassador Antonio P. Villamor, who met her and her delegation at the airport.

Arroyo also pledged to boost job training and reduce the red tape involved with returning OFWs. In two months' time, she said, the Philippine Regulation Commission will come to Riyadh to conduct examinations. She added that the Department of Labor and Employment and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration is spearheading employment programs for returning OFWs.

- With input from Abdul Hanan Faisal Tago

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Feb 4, 2009
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