Sadly, many Filipinos’ knowledge of another country is mostly culled from stories we hear from our workers deployed there. The significance of the diplomatic rift that ruptured relations between Qatar on one hand and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt on the other only came to light because we have an estimated 300,000 workers there.
The displacement of our OFWs is always the first and foremost concern of our Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Labor. Ambassador Ali Ibrahim Al Malki was asked if the DoLE and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello informed the concerned Qatari authorities about the suspension of OFW deployment.
Ever the quintessential diplomat, the ambassador merely replied “no we were not.” He knows the cardinal rule in diplomacy is never to offend the host country where an ambassador is assigned.
This is an instance wherein the host country is remiss in elementary courtesy in its bilateral relations. In an aside, I told the ambassador that this is the new normal of how this administration does things here. He merely smiled at my remark even as I added that certain Cabinet officials were fired on the spot and sometimes they only learned about their dismissal in the next day’s newspapers.
But for the occasional squawking from a caged parrot in the ante room, the media group had a most pleasant evening with their host. Ambassador Al Malki, after all, was graceful in that he had invited us to his home. Arab ambassadors are usually reticent and not keen on inviting total strangers into their home unless he or they are hosting a national day event in their residences. That he hosted a dinner-briefing for journalists speaks volumes about how highly he regards the Philippines and its people.
Filipinos actually are the ones who should be grateful to Qatar for hiring 300,000 OFWs who would otherwise be unemployed in their own country. Many of the Filipinos in Qatar are not the usual stereotype domestics or caregivers. Many are skilled in the engineering, accounting and medical services field. Qatar benefits as well from the Filipino workers deployed in the Gulf state.
Going back to the issue at hand on why four Arab countries cut diplomatic relations with another Arab state, the ambassador said it is something really hard to understand. Allegations of Qatar support for terrorist groups were not provided by Saudi Arabia nor the UAE. The ambassador assured that Qatar will endure any long term diplomatic and economic boycott.
“Qatar will survive. We are a strong country and our people are resilient.” he said as he belied stories of empty food shelves in Doha’s supermarkets and false news reports of Qatar’s isolation due to its airlines being banned from flying into Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. As everyone, knows Qatar Airways makes enough money just flying its three-times-a-day flights from Manila and Clark Airbase in Pampanga to Doha carrying our OFWs to their work places in the Middle East.
After dinner over the piece de resistance of roast leg of lamb, it was the ambassador’s turn to ask us over sweet tea and coffee questions about Marawi and the Mautes. Why Marawi, and why are government troops taking long in its clearing operations?
It was a situation when even the locals do not have ready answers. However at home later I wanted to kick myself for not offering a plausible answer. I had initially said the ISIS -backed Mautes were using Marawi’s mosques as bomb shelter from government air strikes. Our planes were hesitant to bomb places of worship even if the Maute marauders were seen on video desecrating Christian churches and the images of saints inside.
Since the government troops discovered a stash of money and drugs in captured Maute houses, I now favor extrajudicial killings of these lawless terrorists. The toll in human suffering—civilians killed, families displaced and separated—can never be quantified. The ones who suffered most are the children who have to stop schooling because of the fighting. Young boys age nine to 15 are conscripted by the Mautes to bear arms to fight government troops. This is against the United Nations convention prohibiting the use of child warriors. The Mautes and their IS backers have no regard or respect for international laws.
Marawi was chosen because it is the center of culture and has a vibrant economy. The Mindanao State University is in Marawi and the economic elite make Marawi the perfect IS target to create the most impact and international headlines.
With ISIS on the run from the US-led coalition, this brutal band seeks to create a new theater of war in Asia and divert US attention to them in their traditional killing grounds in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
What better place or target than the only Christian country in Asia?