A broad array of academic, diplomatic, religious and inter-faith organizations sent delegations to attend a Public Forum on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia held in the UP School of Statistics Auditorium, UP Diliman on February 20, 2019. The event was organized jointly by the University of the Philippines through the UP Institute of Islamic Studies (UP IIS), the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in the Philippines, and the King Abdulaziz Foundation.
The forum, which was personally attended by H.E. Ambassador Dr. Abdullah N.A. Al Bussairy and King Abdulaziz Foundation Acting Secretary General Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Semmari, brought together four speakers to talk about bilateral relations between the two countries and the state of OFWs in Saudi Arabia.
The speakers included two faculty members from the prestigious King Saud University in Riyadh, Dr. Abdullah Nasser Alwelaie and Dr. Mohammed Abdullah Al-Tuwiri, who were joined by Ms. Jocelyn Sanchez from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and Mr. Raymond Balatbat of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Manila.
With almost 25% of the number of expat workers situated in Saudi Arabia, totaling around 1 million persons, the discussions of the speakers generally focused on the issues of that sector. For instance, while the Agreement on Domestic Worker Recruitment signed in 2013 between the two countries is considered a labor milestone, the Agreement only had a span of five years and was terminated in 2017.
According to reactor Dr. Abdul Hussein Kashim, this Agreement laid down the expectations of both the Philippines and Saudi Arabia with respect to OFWs, as well as codified the rights and privileges of every Filipino domestic worker in the Kingdom. Its importance, he said, meant that reviving the Agreement this 2019 is a necessity. “Both governments should sincerely work together to protect these people,” Kashim said.
The forum was opened by UP ISS Dean Macrina A. Morados. According to Morados, the public lecture is one of the results of Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s state visit in 2017 to the Kingdom that strengthened bilateral relations between both countries. She also thanked the Saudi government, specifically King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, for his generosity to the Institute and support of its goals. The King, Morados noted, donated $2 million for the construction of a new IIS building, which will help the Institute to better fulfill its research and teaching mandate in the 21st century.
UP Vice President for Public Affairs Elena Pernia also read a message on behalf of UP President Danilo L. Concepcion, proposing the creation of a Philippine Learning Commons in Saudi Arabia, similar to that established by UP in Kaohsiung, Taiwan in 2018. Such a facility would enable OFWs to acquire training through online resources and courses, to be made possible through the UP Open University’s distance learning programs.