Binay back from Saudi visit; over 1,000 OFWs repatriated from Hajj terminal, says Embassy

Vice President Jejomar C. Binay returned home late Friday night after a lightning trip to Saudi Arabia, where he attended the burial of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz in behalf of President Benigno Aquino III.

Binay arrived via Etihad Airways flight EY 428 with three overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who had been staying at Bahay Kalinga in Riyadh.

At least 15 more are expected to be repatriated from Abu Dhabi by the end of the month, as soon as airline seats open up.

The Haj season, which starts next week and normally attracts more than a million pilgrims to Makkah, has left virtually no space in the airlines plying the Manila-Middle East route.

While in Riyadh, Binay learned from Ambassador Ezzedin Tago that they had just completed repatriating more than 1,000 “overstayers” at the Hajj Terminal in Jeddah last April. The said OFWs had been the subject of Binay’s appeal to King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud for assistance.

Binay again appealed to the King to grant 1,200 additional visas to Filipino Muslims who would be going to Makkah for the Haj. He was following up on the original request sent by President Aquino to the monarch. The request, if granted, would raise the number of Filipino Haj pilgrims to 5,200.

En route to and from Riyadh, Binay made a brief stopover in Abu Dhabi, where he was briefed by Ambassador Grace Princesa, assisted by Labor Attache Nasser Munder and Welfare Officer James Mendiola on the OFW situation in the United Arab Emirates. Princesa recommended beefing up the reintegration program for returning OFWs.

“History will remember Prince Sultan for his life-long effort to help advance Saudi Arabia’s position in the modern world, but we in the Philippines, most especially the more than one million Filipinos who have made Saudi Arabia their home, will always remember him as a true and devoted friend of the Philippines and the Filipinos,” Binay said in a personal tribute to the late Crown Prince.

“As Crown Prince and minister of defense and aviation, Prince Sultan helped to set the policy that provided such a welcoming atmosphere for Filipino Overseas Workers,” said Binay, who is the chief presidential adviser on OFW Concerns.

The Crown Prince died in a New York hospital on October 22 and was buried at solemn rites in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Binay presented the sympathies of the government and the Filipino people to the late Prince Sultan’s sons and brothers during a somber ceremony on Tuesday evening at the Conference Palace.

The ceremony was attended by foreign dignitaries, including Britain’s Prince Charles and United States Vice President Joseph Biden.

King Abdullah’s delicate health prevented the 87-year-old Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques from joining the evening ceremony. The King had undergone a recent back surgery but checked out of hospital to receive the body of the late Crown Prince from New York on Monday, and sit through the long funeral rites the next day.

Prince Naif was proclaimed the new Crown Prince on Thursday, while keeping the Interior ministry. #