Duterte, Saudi Crown Prince discuss cooperation vs Covid

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President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday night received a phone call from Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss recent efforts to reform the Kafala system and ramp up cooperation to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, Malacañang said on Thursday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the two leaders tackled Saudi Arabia’s resolve to protecting and upholding the rights of Filipino workers in the Kingdom.

“The conversation centered on how to further strengthen the protection given to Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing in Filipino.

He said Duterte also renewed his call to end the Kafala sponsorship system, a mechanism in the Gulf nations used to monitor migrant workers, usually unskilled workers through a sponsor, including household service workers, construction workers, and service industry workers.

Under the system, the sponsor is usually the employer who is responsible for the immigration status and visa of the migrant worker.

Workers cannot leave without their employers’ consent, making them vulnerable to abuse.

“You know we are fighting to change this [Kafala] system, it is like a modern day civil rights movement and of course although Saudi Arabia is active here, one of the strongest supporters of these initiatives is the Philippines because of the number of our citizens working in Saudi Arabia,” he said in Filipino.

The Crown Prince’s call comes after the virtual forum entitled “Labor Mobility and Human Rights: Examining Migrant Labor Governance in the Middle East in the Context of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” held on April 20.

The forum, co-organized by the Philippines and Saudi Arabia governments, provided an important opportunity to talk openly about the Kafala system and what countries, including Saudi Arabia, have been doing to address many systemic issues in the region.

In that forum, Duterte described the Kafala system as “unjust” and “exploitative” because it places thousands of migrant workers “in the most vulnerable situation, unseen, unheard and unable to defend their dignity as human beings.”

Universal access to Covid-19 vaccines

Roque said the two leaders also discussed the need to ensure universal access to Covid-19 vaccines.

They also talked about the need to have a system that all countries in the world, rich or poor, should have access to vaccine at a time of the pandemic because if everyone is not safe, no one is safe from the pandemic,” he added in Filipino.

Duterte, in several public pronouncements, emphasized that nations must work together towards equitable access to vaccines, particularly for developing and least developed nations.

According to an official statement from the Office of the President, Duterte also thanked Saudi Arabia for including Filipinos in the Kingdom’s Covid-19 vaccination program.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for his part, said the vaccination program will be implemented until all Filipinos in the Kingdom are inoculated.

The Crown Prince also called on the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies to work towards affordable and equitable access to vaccines.

Economic partnership

The warm and friendly ties between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia were also tackled in the phone conversation, the OP statement said.

Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen cooperation between the two countries.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likewise emphasized the importance of strengthening bilateral economic partnership, stating that efforts will continue to increase trade and investments by Saudi Arabia in the Philippines.

Duterte welcomed the Crown Prince’s recognition of bolstering economic engagement as an important part of Philippines-Saudi Arabia relations that needs to be sustained.

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