MANILA-- Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III is exploring the possibility of opening a subsidiary of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) in Bahrain to cater to the banking needs of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) living there and facilitate trade and investments between the Philippines and the island-kingdom.
In his recent meeting with members of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dominguez informed them that he will advise President Duterte to look into this possibility as well as schedule a presidential visit to Bahrain, where possibly as many as 100,000 Filipinos reside and work.
A Philippine educational institution, the AMA International University-Bahrain, founded by Ambassador Amable Aguiluz V, has also been established in Salmabad, Bahrain's industrial center.
"We are at the moment converting and acquiring a bank to be a subsidiary [of LandBank] to provide for the needs of our overseas workers. I will certainly advise the President to make sure he visits Bahrain and look into the possibility of establishing a bank there for ease of doing business between us," said Dominguez, who chairs the LandBank Board.
Dominguez was referring to a government plan to acquire and convert the Philippine Postal Bank into a LandBank subsidiary, which will be partly owned by OFWs.
A bank dedicated to the needs of OFWs was among the promises of President Duterte to Filipino migrant workers.
Dominguez's statement was in response to the suggestion by the Bahrain delegation on the establishment of Philippine banks in Bahrain to help strengthen financial relations between the two countries.
The delegation, led by His Excellency Khalid Abdulrahman Almoayed, the chairperson of the Bahrain Chamber of the Commerce and Industry (BCCI), also broached the possibility of the two countries working together to help the Philippines broaden its market for halal goods overseas, and expanding Bahrain's investments here.
"We have to work together on halal matters. The halal market is a big market that the Philippines [can tap]," Almoayed said.
The other members of the Bahrain business delegation included Balqees Bahzad, the wife of Almoayed; Khulood Al Qatan, BCCI board member; Mohd Sajid Izharulhaq, chairman of the Bahrain-Philippines Business Council; Isa Abdulrahim, BCCI treasurer; Ahmed Al Saloom, founder and president of the SME Development Society of Bahrain; Shabir Sharafali, managing director of Shafarali Ventures; and Ahmed Abdulla bin Hindi, an executive committee member of the BCCI.
Accompanying the delegation were Ambassador Aguiluz, the Philippines' special envoy to the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Milton Toledo from the Bahrain consulate.
In the meeting, Almoayed cited BCCI's concerns regarding the Philippine government's requirements for the recruitment of Filipino workers to Bahrain, which he said "involved a lot of paperwork."
Dominguez said he will refer BCCI's concern to the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment. "I will suggest that we refine our regulations... The President's commitment is to simplify these steps."
The finance secretary also discussed with the delegation the three priority goals of the Duterte administration, which are to reduce the poverty incidence in the Philippines from 21.6 percent to 14 percent by 2022, nurture a law-abiding society, and create a climate of peace with armed insurgents here as well as establish cordial and strong relations with members of the international community.
To reduce poverty, Dominguez said the Duterte administration is investing heavily in both urban and rural infrastructure and increasing public expenditures in social services to improve transport and logistics networks across the country, create jobs and spur development, especially outside Metro Manila.
"In the area of infrastructure, we will welcome investments-we are bidding out the refurbishment of our airports, among others, looking at opening our markets and getting rid of most of the restrictions [that hamper trade and investments]," Dominguez said.
He offered to provide the Bahrain delegation with a list of the government's infrastructure projects open for public-private partnerships.
Dominguez said the President's war against illegal drugs is a key factor in attaining the government's goal of developing a law abiding society and maintaining peace and order.
Bahrain, which is considered the financial hub of the Middle East, ranks as the Philippines' 79th trading partner and its 65th export market.
According to the website of the Philippine embassy in Manama, several agreements and memoranda of understanding (MOUs) had been signed between the two countries in the following areas: air services, manpower recruitment, investments, taxation, tourism, education, health services, development assistance, agriculture, and industry.
The Philippines and Bahrain formally established diplomatic ties in 1978.
Source: Philippines Information Agency