Filipino expats in Gulf look to Duterte


DOHA: With more than a million Filipino workers spread across Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, it is small wonder that President Rodrigo Duterte has undertaken a week-long tour of the Gulf.
The migrants have been drawn to the region by a combination of factors — drug crime and corruption back home, and the job opportunities and wages on offer in the Gulf.
Duterte’s deadly war on drugs may have brought him notoriety in the West, but it has earned him the admiration of many Filipino expatriates anxious for change at home. “I would happily say I’m a ‘DDS’, a Duterte Diehard Supporter,” Harry Ramos, a senior mechanical engineer based in Doha for 12 years, said.
“His platform of government is simple, and he’s got the political will to do it.”
Duterte’s populist agenda went down well with the Filipino diaspora in Qatar, where he received almost 80 per cent of the expatriate votes cast in last year’s presidential election.
Ramos, 58, speaks happily about how Filipinos returning home no longer have to bribe officials to get through customs, thanks to Duterte’s crackdown.
Duterte held talks with Saudi King Salman on Tuesday and was in Bahrain for talks on Thursday. On Friday, he flies into Qatar.
“He will discuss with these leaders matters relevant to the welfare and dignity of the Filipinos living in their countries, as well as explore avenues of economic and political cooperation,” Philippine Assistant Foreign Secretary Hjayceelyn Quintana said.
In the bustling Souq Waqif area of the Qatari capital Doha, Duterte’s trip has prompted an air of expectation.
On a balmy early summer evening, with temperatures touching the low 30 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit), conversation outside the busy Manila Supermarket quickly turns to the president’s visit.
Ray, a 38-year-old civil engineer, said he wanted to meet Duterte in person, something he could never achieve back home.
He admitted there was an issue with some migrants, especially those in domestic service, but said life was generally good for Filipinos in the emirate.
“But, if they had to choose the place they will live, of course they will live in the Philippines,” he said.
Twenty-five-year-old Sunshine, who works in promotions, had never left the Philippines before heading to Qatar. Now she has been in Doha for three years.
“It’s better to leave first from the Philippines to earn money and then after a few years… you can go back,” she said. — AFP