Duterte to visit 3 Muslim countries during Holy Week

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte is set to visit 3 Muslim countries while the Philippines marks Holy Week.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a Palace news briefing on Friday, April 7, that Duterte, who will go on the trip as the Philippines observes Holy Week for the first time under his presidency, will seek to "inspire" Filipinos working in the region.

The Philippine leader is scheduled to make a state visit to the following countries in the Middle East:

Duterte will meet with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Manama, Bahrain; and Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, Qatar.

A state visit is the highest kind of presidential trip, where the President is invited by the host head of state.

"The President hopes to inspire people making a living in these countries to help him build a more developed and economically vibrant Philippines," Foreign Assistant Secretary Hjayceelyn Quintana said in a Palace pre-departure briefing for the media on Friday.

"The President desires that in the not so distant future there will be no longer be a reason for Filipinos to leave their families behind in order to make a living," she added.

Quintana pointed out that the Middle East "has been and remains the destination of choice of overseas Filipino workers." (READ: What you need to know about overseas Filipino workers)

Quintana said 760,000 Filipinos live in Saudi Arabia; 60,000 in Bahrain; and 250,000 in Qatar. 

Other dates once considered

Duterte's trip to the Middle East falls within Holy Week, the holiest week in predominantly Christian Philippines, when Christians commemorate the passion and death of Jesus Christ.   

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, April 9, and ends on Holy Saturday, April 15. This leads to Easter Sunday, April 16, the greatest feast in the Christian world, which celebrates the rise of Jesus from the dead.

Islam is the official religion in the 3 countries that Duterte is visiting.

Duterte's predecessors usually spent the first few days of Holy Week  meeting with authorities on preparations for the rush to the provinces, and later to rest and pray, but Duterte, who often slams the Catholic Church, is not known to observe religious customs as much as former presidents like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

On the timing of Duterte's Middle East trip, Quintana explained: "I can tell you that there have been different dates that have been proposed in the past, as early as last year. And for some reason, eventually, this was the only one that worked out that was mutually accepted by both parties as convenient."

The DFA official said 3 or 4 dates, in fact, had even been considered before, "as early as December, January, February."

"So hindi naman ho talaga itiniming (So it was not really timed for Holy Week)," she said. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.