By Angel L. Tesorero
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates–President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. will arrive in Dubai on November 29 to attend COP (Conference of Parties) 28 and also to visit the huge Filipino community in the emirate. It will be the first time in 14 years that a Philippine president will come to the country and meet his compatriots.
Marcos shall participate in the United Nations Climate Summit, but there are other concerns his fellow Filipinos would also like to hear from him, including “effective response to economic issues besetting Filipinos back home, while underscoring the urgency for effective solutions towards a more environmentally-resilient Philippines.”
They would like to hear solutions to soaring prices of commodities as much as they would like to know the Philippine government’s stance on mining, decarbonization and transition to clean energy.
The reporter spoke to Filipino community leaders, entrepreneurs and long-time residents to capture the collective spirit of more than 600,000 Filipino expatriates and know their agenda and expectations during a meeting with the Filipino community on Wednesday (November 29) at Dubai World Trade Center.
More than a diplomatic trip
Rex Bacarra, Ph.D., university professor of Philosophy and Ethics, said: “As a Filipino expatriate living in the UAE for 16 years, I view the official visit of President Marcos as more than a diplomatic trip. It is set against the backdrop of the Philippines navigating through the turbulent waters of rapidly rising prices of everyday goods. I look with anticipation and scrutiny his engagement with the Filipino community would mean addressing the questions about pressing economic issues while underscoring the urgency for effective solutions towards a more resilient country.”
“As somebody who regularly sends money to the Philippines, the visit of President Marcos to the UAE presents a unique opportunity for critical dialogue to know and understand if there are clear, practical solutions to address the concerns of Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad,” he noted, adding: “Do we have long-term policies to ensure sustainable growth and stability of prices?”
Bacarra continued: “As Pres. Marcos will be participating in COP28, I also would like to know his administration’s stance on mining and environmental protection, as well as protecting our economic interests and border security in the West Philippine Sea.”
Better consular services
Streamlining immigration procedures for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), broader protection abroad and better consular services are also among the pressing issues Filipinos want addressed.
Community leader Josie Conlu would like to hear from Marcos “ways to streamline and simplify the immigration procedures while ensuring the protection of Filipino workers’ rights and welfare. He should address concerns such as visa processing, employment contracts, and the prevention of human trafficking.”
Long-time Dubai resident Joyce Villalino-Alexander added: “To lessen the burden on OFWs, there should be consistent consular services on weekends at the Philippine missions and Migrant Workers Office (MWO) so we don’t have to take time off from work on weekdays. Charges for contract verification fees should abolished or at least reduced.”
Rights and welfare
Migrante Middle East, an organisation promoting migrants’ rights and welfare, would like to hear about sustainable job creation in Philippines. They noted “the lack of employment opportunities has resulted in unabated exodus of Filipino overseas workers.”
They also asked for more welfare officers at MWO to address the needs of distressed OFWs and effective response to unfair labour practices and human trafficking.
Boost to bilateral relations
Meanwhile, nurse and entrepreneur Junah Balungcas would like to see Pres. Marcos “fostering stronger economic ties with the UAE for the benefit of more Filipino entrepreneurs and businesses in the country.”
“As a business owner and healthcare professional, I appreciate the opportunities and support offered by the UAE. I am also fully supportive of Pres. Marcos and I appreciate the positive steps he is taking for the betterment of our country,” added Balungcas, founder and CEO of Baofriend Restaurant FZCO.
Filipino businessmen are also calling for the immediate passing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which began in February 2022. Filipino restaurateur Rolly Brucales, managing director of Off The Hook restaurant, said: “We need to strengthen the trade relationship with the UAE. We also would like to see stricter implementation of trademarks and franchises.”
For her part, Bobbie Carella, chairman emeritus of Philippine Business Council-Dubai and Northern Emirates, would like to hear Marcos “championing climate action by embracing renewable energy sources, managing forestry and natural resources, and strengthening and enforcing environmental policies, among others.”
“This isn’t solely about today; it’s about ensuring a vibrant, cooler, greener, and sustainable world for future generations. After all, there is no planet Earth B,” she added. #
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This report is originally published on Khaleej Times where the reporter is a senior deputy editor.