Our saga in the Middle East

Published August 21, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Former House Speaker Jose C. De Venecia Jr.


Jose de Venecia Jr.
Former Speaker of the House

Last year, our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) remitted a record-breaking $34 billion, or some 8.9 percent of our country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The hard-earned money our OFWs send to their families here at home also allow their loved ones to live decent and comfortable lives.

Reviewing our early years, we resided and held office for three years in London in the early 1980s, as we oversaw our projects operating the ports of Jeddah on the Red Sea and in Jubail on the Persian Gulf as pioneers and prime contractors, the first Philippine companies then in the Arab world, Landoil Resources Corporation, Global Electrification Corporation, and Philsinports (for Philippine-Singapore Ports Corporation), the latter at the time a joint venture with the Singapore government’s port authority.
We pioneered then in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Libya in North Africa and employed more than 50,000 of our countrymen, the first Filipinos in large numbers in the Middle East, many of who have since returned home with great work experiences and substantial savings. They helped build middle-class homes in the countryside while contributing to the enrichment of the coffers of the Central Bank with critical foreign exchange.

We were pioneers at the time in the Arabian Peninsula, together with other Philippine companies, leading eventually to the presence of perhaps more than one million Filipinos today in the Arab world as engineers, doctors, nurses, electricians, port and farm workers, restauranteurs, musicians, employees in supermarkets and various offices and we set up as well the electrification network in the vast Central Region around the capital city of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia where our companies deployed thousands of engineers and electricians.

Our affiliate, IOMC (International Operations and Maintenance Corporation), which included retired senior executives of the Singapore Ports Authority (SPA) who we engagedwhen we set up the then pioneering Philippines-Singapore Ports Corporation, which operated the great ports of Jeddah on the Red Sea and Jubail on the Persian Gulf.

We reminisce about the halcyon days in the mid-1970s when the Philippines and South Korea took the lead in deploying prime construction and operation and maintenance (O&M) companies, with our own managers, equipment, and competent work forces in the Arabian Peninsula.

Thousands have lingered there in the Arab cities up to this day, while a good number sailed across the Red Sea, between Arabia and Africa, crossed the Suez Canal, and onward to the Mediterranean and the cities of Europe.

In a sense, they were the counterparts of the early Filipino pioneers who sailed across the Pacific and settled in the valleys of California and on the coasts of Alaska to work in the fish canneries of North America.

Hundreds of thousands have since become US citizens, sent consistently dollars home to their families and helped enrich immensely our Central Bank’s foreign exchange reserves, and contributed to the rapid emergence of the Filipino middle class.

Today, many of our intrepid early Filipinos have settled and helped enrich communities in the US, achieved middle class status and some became millionaires. A good number achieved honors in US universities and American society. Some returned home, got elected to office, and a number set up many successful companies, which provided employment to many of our countrymen.