MANILA, Dec 18 (Mabuhay) — Qatar is seeking to strengthen its political and economic ties with the Philippine government, Qatari Ambassador to Manila Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Malki said Saturday.

“This year 2021, marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the State of Qatar and the Republic of the Philippines. The State of Qatar gives great importance to its bilateral relations with the Philippines and seeks to deepen its strategic partnership in the field of politics and economy,” he said in his message on the 143rd Qatar National Day.

Al-Malki noted that Qatar was the first country to carry out reforms in labor policies in the Middle East, including the historic abolition of the Kafala system that has benefited thousands of Filipinos working in the country.

He said these latest initiatives have simplified the procedures for the transfer of workers between employers and have set a minimum wage to protect migrant workers, including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“It is a roadmap described by many countries as a ‘giant step’, echoing the State’s commitment to giving migrant workers more freedom and protection, providing employers with more options,” he said.

“These reforms offered an example for other countries in the regions to emulate. They have been praised by many countries in the world and international organizations.”

The Kafala or sponsorship system, a practice in most of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, legally binds a foreign worker’s immigration status to the employer or sponsor for their contract period, often leading to modern-slavery conditions.

At least 242,000 Filipinos are living and working in Qatar. More than 200 Filipino companies are also operating in the Qatari market, engaged in different activities.

“Base(d) on the spirit of principles of justice and equality, the State of Qatar has always valued the roles played by Filipino workers and their contributions to the development of Qatar. Despite the pandemic, the State of Qatar has been keen to ensure public safety and health for all,” Al-Malki said.

He also echoed Doha’s continued support for the Philippine government’s pandemic response.

Last month, it donated about 50,000 doses of vaccine valued at PHP22.47 million.

He added that Qatar Airways was the only airline that remained operational during the lockdown, helping the country in its mass repatriation efforts.

On other areas of cooperation, Al-Malki said he is hoping to revive trade exchanges between the two nations through the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which will link Qatar businessmen and their counterparts in the Philippines.

“(T)he State of Qatar is constantly exerting intensive efforts to enhance the bilateral relations between the two countries, especially under the administration of His Excellency President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, where opportunities are still favorable to advance trade and investment among other areas, including energy, health, education and culture, and concluded agreements, as well as (the) activation of joint memoranda of understanding for bilateral cooperation,” he said.

The envoy noted that four decades of diplomatic relations are a testament to the “solid friendship” that the two nations have formed over the years.

“This also manifests great optimism for the future and firm determination to move forward together to an important milestone in the relations between the two countries,” he said. (MNS)

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