President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. in an RTVM screenshot.

In a momentous event, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia recently inked a groundbreaking investment agreement worth over $4.26 billion, signifying a significant step forward in their bilateral relations. This historic agreement was formalized during a high-level roundtable meeting with influential Arabian business leaders on Thursday, October 19, 2023.

President Marcos, the driving force behind this monumental deal, expressed immense enthusiasm for the prospects it brings. The accord, which promises a windfall of opportunities, is expected to positively impact the lives of more than 15,000 Filipinos. It will open doors for employment opportunities in the booming construction industry and bolster human resource services.

“With an estimated value surpassing $120 million, the agreements signed today hold the potential to uplift the futures of over 15,000 Filipinos, offering them training and employment prospects spanning diverse professions within the construction sector,” President Marcos declared with evident optimism.

President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. engages with Saudi Arabian business leaders in Riyadh on October 19, 2023. (Photo: Malacañang)

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) played a pivotal role in orchestrating this milestone. Saudi’s Al Rushaid Petroleum Investment Company and Samsung Engineering NEC Co. Ltd. partnered with the Philippines’ EEI Corp. to venture into construction export services valued at $120 million.

Furthermore, Saudi’s Al-Jeer Human Resources Company-ARCO, and the Association of Philippine Licensed Agencies for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, locked in a human resource services agreement amounting to a staggering $3.7 billion.

The deal-making didn’t stop there. Saudi’s Maharah Human Resources Company went on to seal investment agreements worth $191 million each with the Philippines’ Staffhouse International Resources Corporation and E-GMP International Corporation, strengthening the collaborative framework.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and House Speaker Martin Romualdez participate in a meeting with Saudi Arabian business leaders. (Photo: Office of House Speaker Martin Romualdez)

President Marcos paid tribute to the dedicated companies involved, recognizing their significant contributions to cementing the ties between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia. He affirmed, “To our current and future business partners, I hope that this meeting has served as an excellent platform for building greater and closer partnerships between the Philippines and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

The significance of this investment agreement goes beyond the financial figures. As President Marcos noted during his meeting with the Saudi Ministry of Investment led by Minister Khalid Al-Falih, the Philippines’ economy has been experiencing an impressive growth trajectory, with a remarkable 7.6 percent growth in its GDP in 2022 – the highest since 1976.

In addition to this, the Philippines attracted $9.2 billion in net foreign direct investments in 2022, demonstrating its appeal to Arabian business leaders. President Marcos emphasized the nation’s healthy and robust financial and banking sectors and the continuous positive ratings of its credit, showcasing a thriving business environment with lowered red tape and improved competitiveness.

“The Philippines’ economic achievements in the past year reflect the sustained efforts of this administration, supported by the private sector, in fostering an enabling business environment, cutting red tape, lowering the cost of doing business, and improving competitiveness,” President Marcos added, underscoring the nation’s commitment to facilitating a nurturing environment for both current and potential Saudi investors.

We’ve landed in Riyadh for the ASEAN-GCC Summit, nurturing our robust 30-year alliance spanning security, economy, and culture. With 2.2 million Filipinos in GCC nations, this summit is of distinct significance. – President Bong Bong Marcor Jr.

President Marcos’ presence in Riyadh was not solely for this investment pact. He was also there to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Gulf Cooperation Council (ASEAN-GCC) Summit, where regional cooperation and global partnerships were at the forefront of discussions.

Another interesting development during the visit was the keen interest expressed by Saudi Arabian business leaders in the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF). The MIF, a flagship initiative of President Marcos’ administration, has garnered significant attention from international investors.

In a meeting with President Marcos and business leaders from both the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, Saudi Ministry of Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih conveyed the eagerness of Saudi investors to understand the nuances of the MIF. They see the Philippines as a key partner in their journey to expand their international footprint, and the MIF has piqued their curiosity.

“We want to connect you to key Saudi investors with impressive success stories to share and with the desire to continue building an international presence by investing with partners across the globe, with the Philippines being a key player,” Al-Falih said.

He further praised the Philippines’ efforts to move towards a cashless society by 2030 and its advancements in mobile finances. Saudi Arabia, renowned for its successful banking sector, expressed interest in sharing its knowledge and expertise with the Philippines in this domain.

During a roundtable discussion, Mulhan Albakree, the Executive General Manager of the Public Investment Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, expressed strong interest in the Philippines’ groundbreaking investment fund. Bandar Al Hamali, the CEO of Jada, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest investment companies, also voiced enthusiasm for the MIF.

President Marcos wasted no time in presenting the MIF to Saudi Arabian business leaders as soon as he arrived in Riyadh. He urged them to seize the opportunity and invest in the MIF, not just to contribute to its infrastructure projects but also to learn from Saudi Arabia’s extensive experience in financial management.

“At the forefront of these opportunities is the recently launched Maharlika Investment Fund, the Philippines’ first-ever sovereign investment fund designed to drive long-term economic development through increased investments in high-impact sectors,” President Marcos proudly declared.

“We look forward to benefiting not just from Saudi investments but also from the Kingdom’s extensive experience in managing such funds,” he added, emphasizing the two-way learning process that can flourish from this collaboration.

In the same dedicated spirit as our Philippine Coast Guard’s support for fisherfolk, disaster relief, and environmental protection, we are resolute in boosting their capabilities. This encompasses acquiring 40 new vessels and fostering inter-agency collaboration for a safer, more resilient Philippines.

President Marcos also highlighted the numerous legislative amendments aimed at making the Philippines more attractive to foreign investors. These include changes to the Foreign Investments Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, the Public Services Act, and the Renewable Energy Act. All these amendments are directed at inviting foreign investments into critical sectors such as telecommunications, post operations, transportation, and clean energy.

The Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act now offers fiscal incentives to foreign investors, providing them with additional reasons to engage with the Philippines’ economic team and explore the benefits of investing in the country.

While there was a temporary suspension of the implementation of the Maharlika Investment Fund’s rules and regulations (IRR) before President Marcos’s departure to Riyadh, it should not be misconstrued as a lack of confidence in the fund. President Marcos clarified that the suspension was a strategic move to ensure that the organizational structure of the fund is as close to perfection as possible. The Maharlika Investment Fund remains a promising initiative, and its implementation is expected to resume later this year.

In conclusion, the recent investment agreement between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia is a testament to the strength and potential of international partnerships. This multi-billion-dollar pact opens up exciting opportunities for Filipinos and cements the growing bond between these two nations. President Marcos’ visit to Riyadh not only showcased these remarkable developments but also highlighted the Philippines’ commitment to fostering an inviting environment for foreign investors. The interest of Saudi business leaders in the Maharlika Investment Fund further underscores the nation’s potential as a hub for global investments. As the Philippines and Saudi Arabia embark on this journey of collaboration and growth, the future holds the promise of prosperity for both nations and their people.