MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is ready to send troops to Bahrain if the oil-rich kingdom comes under attack, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday, April 15.
Duterte said in a forum with Bahraini businessmen that he made this commitment to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa when they had a meeting at Sakhir Palace on the occasion of his state visit. (READ: PH, Bahrain ink agreements to boost trade, investments)
Speaking before the Capital Club of Bahrain, a prestigious private business and social club composed of top Bahraini CEOs and businessmen, Duterte said his pledge reflected the Philippines' deep appreciation and debt of gratitude to Bahrain for hosting and looking after Filipino workers, estimated at around 60,000.
"We are, maybe far away, thousands of miles, but one of our most important national interest is really the kindness and accommodation that you have extended to my brother Filipinos. That is why I said to His Royal Highness, that that national interest is very important. And I committed to stand by you at all times," he said.
"And I said that if you need us, you just call. And if you want even, if things break loose – I pray to God that it will remain fundamentally on the side of the Middle East, peaceful – but if there's a violent activity going on, we will be ready to help you," he added.
Duterte quickly added that Philippine soldiers are "experienced and disciplined," many trained under the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
"If you want to deploy us here, we will agree because of our national interest and the lives of Filipinos here. If you want [our] soldiers under your command, I'm willing to send you one battalion, one regiment, one division to protect you. Just say the word. And if the other countries say, 'What are you doing?’ I'll say, 'It is on our national interest,'" he said.
Last month, Bahraini authorities dismantled a 14-member "terrorist" cell that has planned attacks on senior figures and security forces in the Gulf country, Gulf News reported.
Home to the US Fifth Fleet, Bahrain has been witnessing continuous unrest since 2011, when protests inspired by the Arab uprisings emerged demanding an elected government, the report said.
Bahrain is the second leg of Duterte's 3-nation Middle East tour. The President said going to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar was his personal decision, based on the contribution of these countries to the Philippine economy through the employment of Filipino workers.
"Job opportunity – that by itself is a debt of gratitude. We want to repay you... We don't have the resources, we don't have the oil, but we can offer our lives to you," Duterte told the Bahraini businessmen.
Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that there are about 760,000 Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, around 60,000 in Bahrain, and 250,000 in Qatar. (READ: Saudi OFWs raise problems before 'Tatay' Duterte)
Duterte arrived at the Bahrain International Airport late on Wednesday, April 12, after a two-day state visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from April 10 to 12.
The last leg of his Middle East tour is Qatar. – Chrisee Dela Paz/Rappler.com