MANILA, Philippines – World leaders hailed Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah as a “cautious reformer” and ally in fighting Al Qaeda but to the Philippines, he was a “great friend” of Filipino migrant workers.
The Philippine government mourned the death of the king on Friday, January 23, recalling his efforts to help Filipinos working in the deeply conservative Islamic kingdom.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said King Abdullah was receptive to the concerns of the Philippine government in improving the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia, especially those on death row.
“He granted clemency, in different instances, to Filipinos under trial; reached into his own coffers to assist in the case of Rodelio Celestino Lanuza; and provided migrant workers in Saudi Arabia the opportunity to correct their status,” Valte said in a statement.
Lanuza was an OFW sentenced to death for killing an Arab in 2000 reportedly in self-defense. In 2013, King Abdullah decided to shoulder the unpaid balance of the so-called blood money the victim’s family sought to spare him from the death penalty.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, Manila’s presidential adviser on OFW concerns, said he was grateful for the king’s “merciful heart.”
“King Abdullah’s kindness and compassion was extraordinary. He was the first Saudi King who contributed blood money to save the life of an overseas Filipino worker,” Binay said.
The Philippines also thanked King Abdullah for extending the deadline for undocumented migrant workers to legalize their status in 2013.
Valte said that the Philippines will also remember the agreements it entered into with Saudi Arabia under Abdullah’s rule including a Standard Employment Contract, and a deal on domestic worker recruitment to protect OFWs.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz attested to this. “It is under the reign of King Abdullah and under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III that Saudi Arabia and the Philippines have really forged closer and stronger cooperation in labor and employment.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said there are 890,000 Filipinos working in Saudi Arabia as of June 2014, majority of them contract workers. About one out of 10 Filipinos work abroad in search of better jobs and income.
Valte called Abdullah “an important figure in international and regional affairs,” extending the Philippines’ condolences to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s Royal Court announced Abdullah’s death on Friday, weeks after he was admitted to a Riyadh hospital for a lung infection.
Reportedly 90 years old, Abdullah was known for pushing “cautious changes” in the world’s top oil exporter and birthplace of Islam like increased women’s rights and economic deregulation, but he opposed democracy and cracked down on dissent.
His 79-year-old half brother, Crown Prince Salman, succeeded him as king.
‘Champion in fighting extremism’
In a separate statement, the DFA focused on King Abdullah’s contributions to the Middle East and the rest of the world.
“The late King was a courageous, generous, and visionary leader who introduced policy changes in education and infrastructure. He was a champion in fighting extremism,” the DFA said.
The New York Times reported that Abdullah became a force of moderation, and contested Al Qaeda’s militant interpretations of Islam. He had hundreds of militants arrested and some beheaded. (READ: Saudi King Abdullah: patient reformer who battled hardliners)
A close US ally, the late king joined Washington in fighting Al Qaeda and its Saudi-born leader Osama bin Laden, who wanted to depose Saudi Arabia’s royal family.
King Abdullah was also a strong supporter of education, and built universities and increased scholarships abroad for Saudi students.
“Under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia strengthened its contributions as a positive force in the global economy. The King’s passing is not only a profound loss for the Kingdom and the Islamic world, but also for the community of responsible nations,” the DFA said.
In paying tribute to the late king, the DFA used his title “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” to refer to his guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina.
King Abdullah’s death is seen as adding uncertainty in the Middle East as the region struggles to deal with threats from terror groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Al Qaeda in Yemen. – Rappler.com