By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Officials from Saudi Arabia will visit Manila this year for talks on bilateral concerns including agriculture, according to Adnan Alonto, Philippine ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Saudi kingdom.
Alonto travelled home recently for discussions with top government officials, including Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol.
Photos of Alonto’s meetings with the two secretaries were posted in Facebook pages last week. One photo showed Bello and Alonto discussing the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia and Oman. As ambassador extraordinary, Alonto also represents the Philippines in Oman.
In a separate post by Piñol on March 14, he said Alonto encouraged him to make preparations because the visiting team would include officials from the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) who are “interested in agriculture.”
“We can come up with several project proposals within the context of their needs. “We can also travel to Saudi and present to them our proposals,” Piñol was quoted as telling Alonto and his entourage.
Piñol said his office and the Philippine embassy in Riyadh “will coordinate to conduct an agro-investment mission and propose tie-ups with agencies and establishments” in Saudi Arabia.
Technical staff at the Department of Agriculture said the Piñol-Alonto meeting tackled prospects long desired by their boss even before President Duterte appointed him to the Cabinet in 2016.
While he was governor of North Cotabato from 1998 to 2007 and vice governor from 2007 to 2010, Piñol advocated cattle and goat-raising for the world’s multi-billion dollar halal industry, with emphasis on targeting Muslim nations like Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Piñol raised cattle and sheep in his family farm in Kidapawan City, and later introduced the technology to Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.
In one casual talk with journalists in 2017, Piñol said Maguindanao has evolved into “MagandaNow” in various development dimensions, including agro-industrial ventures based on halal food production.
Regional trade and investment officials had tagged Maguindanao as the “halal hub” in southern Philippines after it put up wide livestock farms coupled with modern slaughter facilities in Buluan town. One of the new facilities alone could produce 60,000 halal dressed chicken a day, local and foreign investors told Piñol during his visit in 2018.