Saudi Gazette | 5 February 2009 (extract)
By Faheem Al-Hamid
In an exclusive telephone interview during her visit to Riyadh on Tuesday, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, focused on measures by her country to strengthen economic ties with the Kingdom. Arroyo talked about means to tackle the biting global economic crisis. Arroyo came here on Monday on a side trip from Italy after attending the Davos World Economic Forum. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Honorable President, what was the purpose of this surprise visit?
A: I was in Davos and I’m on my way to Bahrain. So I decided that I will come to Riyadh since I’m in the area and the visit is principally anchored on furthering bilateral relations between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, particularly in the field of investments…because to the fiscally strong, the global credit crunch that the world is experiencing now is a time of opportunity and to the likes of Saudi Arabia this is the time to fill the financial vacuum. Also it is important to share that financial capacity is ability to decide and move quickly. Saudi Arabia is a bastion of wealth with both financial capacity and quick execution, given its all wealth and its decisive leadership. The fact that the Philippines has Mindanao close to the heart of Saudi Arabia opens up a window of opportunity for Saudi investments in the Philippines.
Q: So did the Saudis promise financial support to your government?
A: Well, since my state visit here the last time ... Prince Al-Waleed invested in the Philippines and in fact already right now he is building two top towers, the Raffles Hotel and Fairmont, and I had a meeting with him today and he said that they are very successful so far.
Q: What was the outcome of your meeting with Prince Al-Waleed and what is the total cost of the of these two projects?
A: He’s building Raffles Hotel and also Fairmont Hotel. And in the condominium part of it, it’s already 50 percent bought so it’s very successful.
Q: What other subjects were discussed with Saudi ministers you met?
A: The Minister of Agriculture will lead a delegation to the Philippines in April to look at the areas for agriculture investment.
Q: So you’re giving land free?
A: No, it’s a commercial land, it’s a commercial transaction just like the transaction of the Saudi investments in agriculture in Ethopia and in Sudan.
Q: Same scheme?
A: More or less.
Q: How can this relation reach a strategic partnership, with special emphasis on investment and economic front?
A: The Philippines and Saudi Arabia already have a strong strategic partnership that is based on years of solid Saudi-Filipino people to people relations. As I said earlier to you Kingdom’s Holdings have invested in our nation. You are also a valued trading partner. We buy a lot of oil from you and you buy bananas, pineapples, mango and papaya from us. You employ over 1.4 million of our expatriate workers. So the relations are really quite good and we are very happy about the success of our efforts to sustain the economic growth and stability in our country and also new investment and trade opportunities that have been developed. I mentioned, for instance, the tourism investments of Prince Al-Waleed and Kingdom Holdings, and the prospects for agriculture investment and take opportunities for instance of the halal market. Saudi Arabia is now open to the Philippines because they have been able to have our halal products certified in Saudi Arabia. So I’m confident that this relationship will continue to prosper to the benefit of both our nations.