[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo and Saudi Aramco president Abdallah S. Jum’ah relax amid sand dunes near the Shaybah compound. The President thanked the oil firm, which owns 40 percent of Petron Corp., for investing in the Philippines. She will be back in Manila this afternoon.]

MANILA, May 11, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo arrives today in Manila after a four-day state visit to Saudi Arabia with two planeloads of freed Filipino overseas workers and billions of dollars in investment commitments and guarantees of oil supply for the country.

Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said the visit also achieved gains in terms of the Philippines’ bid for an observer status in the influential Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), which is the largest grouping of Muslim countries.

"Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally of the Philippines as our leading supplier of oil and host to more than a million Filipino workers," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said. "The assurances from the Kingdom of stable oil supply gives us a sense of security amidst a volatile market."

Mrs. Arroyo is expected to arrive at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City at around 1 p.m. aboard a chartered Philippine Airlines flight with some of the 300 Filipinos who were jailed for minor offenses and pardoned by the Saudi monarch. Officials said a chartered Gulf Air flight, carrying more Filipinos released from jail would arrive several minutes ahead of the President and welcome her.

Her visit took her to the capital Riyadh, Jeddah and Damman where she met with the King, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Prince Salman, Prince Waleed bin Al-Talal and the top ministers of the Saudi government as well as business groups such as the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Jeddah Chamber of Commerce.

Mrs. Arroyo called on them to "recycle" their petrodollar and windfalls profits from the increased oil prices to equity investments in the country in mining, infrastructure, agribusiness, energy and power, and information and communications technology.

"The Philippines is poised to absorb Saudi investments into our energy, petrochemicals, tourism, mining, telecommunications, information technology and agricultural sectors," Mrs. Arroyo said in her meeting with business leaders.

"We are promoting fast-growing industries where high-value jobs are most plentiful and which can use our most competitive resource — the great Filipino worker."

When pressed about the actual worth of investment commitments, Bunye said: "We can’t give a figure yet as we have confer with the members of the business delegation regarding their talks with their Saudi counterparts."

"But we are confident that these would run to billions of dollars because the President was speaking in terms of investing in strategic sectors of the economy," he said.

Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila said the commitments to invest from Saudi businessmen and Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Al Talal including possible mining ventures, food processing and tourism.

"We don’t have the figures yet but the King (Abdulllah bin Abdul Aziz) has told his sons to put in investments in the areas the President has asked of him," Favila said.

Favila and Subic-Clark Area Development Council chairman Edgardo Pamintuan said Prince Waleed would be sending an investment mission in the coming weeks to study possible sites for putting up hotel resorts in the two former US bases turned economic zones.

Bunye said the Prince owns a worldwide hotel chain that requires a minimum investments of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Favila said initial talks on possible mining ventures with interest Saudi business leaders showed that at least $1 billion could be poured into the country.

Philip Romualdez, president of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, said there was some interest in possible mining investments in the country. However, Saudi businessmen were more interested in possible joint ventures into mining in the oil-rich kingdom with Philippine mining companies.

"They think there is a great potential for mining in their country other than oil," Romualdez said, adding the Philippines, the fifth most-mineralized country in the world, has a very long experience in modern mining.

Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla said the Philippine government and Saudi oil giant Aramco are stepping up talks to set up an oil refinery in Mindanao to serve the American west coast market.

Mrs. Arroyo expressed appreciation for the support given by the Saudi monarch for the proposed oil refinery.

Favila also disclosed that Saudi officials also expressed interest in the Philippine proposal for them to provide financial and technical assistance to develop the Halal Accreditation body in the country as well as investments in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s export processing zone in Maguindanao.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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