DAVOS, Switzerland — President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is confident that the strong presence of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East is a plus factor in attracting investments from Arab countries looking eastward for new investment destinations.

President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. speaks at the 2023 World Economic Forum (WEF) Country Strategy Dialogue in Davos, Switzerland. (Malacañang photo)

Marcos said this in response to a question at the World Economic Forum (WEF) open forum here. The President was asked how he sees possible engagement with Gulf countries, which now consider Southeast Asia a new location for investments.

According to the President, the Philippines welcomes any significant capital-intensive investment, especially now the country is trying to grow its way out of the debt it has incurred.

He added that Southeast Asia must regain its pre-pandemic position as a fast-growing economy while retaining the essential elements that brought it to that point before the pandemic.

“The workforce still exists. It is up to us as leaders, I think, to be very careful how we direct now the development of the economy because it’s not business as usual. The pandemic changed everything,” Marcos said.

President Marcos said the Philippines was fortunate to have established solid relations with the Middle Eastern countries because of the enormous concentration of OFWs in Gulf states.

“In the talks that we’ve had with some of the leaders from the Middle East, the discussion always begins with the overseas Filipino workers,” he said.

Trade also always comes into play, especially with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members’ very expansive and aggressive spending plan for the next few years, Marcos added, noting that trade becomes part of the discussion with Arab nations as the Philippines speaks about its planned sovereign wealth fund.

“Some of the examples that we’re looking at are the ones in the Middle East because they have been the ones that have been most successful,” he said.

“The connections are there — we just not have — put it in that area. But I’m sure that any opportunities that we will be given… have to take full advantage of,” he added.

Among the countries in the Middle East, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that Saudi Arabia remained the favorite destination of OFWs in 2020, with around 470,820 OFWs based in the Kingdom. This number was 26.6 percent of the estimated 1.77 million OFWs in 2020.

However, the Philippines halted the deployment of new OFWs to KSA in November 2021 for several reasons, such as reported unpaid wages and allegations of abuse.

There were also reports that Saudi employers and recruiters made OFWs pay for Covid-19 testing, quarantine, and insurance upon their arrival in the Kingdom.

In September last year, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) announced that the Philippines would lift the said year-long ban on November 7, 2022, following bilateral talks on how to improve and protect the welfare of OFWs in KSA.