The Philippines on Monday said it was ready with a contingency plan to protect the safety of more than 50,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in South Korea if tensions with North Korea over its plan to launch a new rocket escalated into a full-blown crisis.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is in Seoul attending a nuclear security summit with other world leaders, also said the government would direct local governments with migrant workers in South Korea to be prepared for any eventuality.
“Our embassy (in Seoul) is ready for a worst-case scenario,” Binay said in a statement released by his office.
Pyongyang has said it plans to launch a satellite into space aboard a new rocket between April 12 and 16, triggering warnings from the United States and its allies that the launch was intended to test a missile capable eventually of delivering an atomic warhead.
North Korea has said the first stage of the rocket is expected to fall in international waters about 140 kilometers off the South Korean west coast. The second stage is projected to splash down some 190 km off the northeast coast of the Philippines.
“This is an unfortunate situation because there are existing United Nations resolutions and North Korea has said it will comply with the resolutions,” Binay said. “We hope it does not happen and North Korea complies with the UN resolutions.”
A UN Security Council resolution passed after North Korea staged missile and nuclear tests in 2009 bans a ballistic missile launch for any purpose.
The North Korean issue will be discussed by President Benigno Aquino III and other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) during the April 3-4 Asean summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in Malacañang.
The 10-nation Asean includes the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei Darussalam, Laos and Burma (Myanmar).
“I think there will be a topic on DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea),” Lacierda said, adding the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was “on top of the situation” insofar as contingency plans for OFWS were concerned.
He said there were around 56,000 Filipinos in South Korea and seven to nine Filipinos in North Korea working with UN-related agencies.
4 alert levels
Told that North Korea had already moved the rocket to its launch site and asked whether the Philippines would join the US call for China to rein in its North Korean ally, Lacierda said “the most effective means of addressing the North Korean issue has always been the six-party talks.”
He was referring to the dialogue on ending North Korea’s nuclear program that began in 2003 and involves the United States, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the Philippines will press Pyongyang to abandon its rocket launch plan.
The Philippine Embassy has posted on its website a 10-page advisory on the contingency plan for Filipino workers in South Korea.
Written in Filipino, the advisory directs the workers to familiarize themselves with four alert levels.
Under Alert Level 1, the OFWs are required to observe heightened alertness. Alert Level 2 calls for restriction of movements, while Alert Levels 3 and 4 call for relocation and actual evacuation, respectively.
Three “convergence areas” for evacuees have been marked: Seoul, Daejeon and Busan (or Pusan), which is some 330 km southwest of Seoul. If the Gimpo and Incheon international airports are already closed, Busan will be the main convergence point.
From Busan, the embassy plans to evacuate Filipinos, using both the city’s major port and Gimbae International Airport.
No crisis yet
All 90 Philippine embassies and consulates worldwide have a contingency plan for Filipinos, the DFA said.
Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesperson, said “that could include the mobilization of a network of Filipino community leaders, logistical movements of Filipinos to safer areas and possible evacuation of nationals to the Philippines.”
“This plan is amended or revised as needed depending on the actual situation on the ground,” Hernandez said.
However, “no crisis alert level [for Filipinos] in the two Koreas has been declared” by the DFA, he said.
The Senate defense committee chairman, Panfilo Lacson, said in a text message that North Korea’s launch plan should be a cause for concern “because it automatically threatens the peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Lacson said the situation was not helped by North Korea being a “secretive” country.
He added: “Unfortunately, [the situation] is further aggravated by some tough talk from [US President Barack] Obama and warnings from the West. How China reacts to the situation will surely affect the stability in the area.”
Lacson also said: “The Philippines, being a helpless observer, may be better off staying that way. Our efforts are limited to using our diplomatic channels with our neighboring countries, to speak as one voice with them.”
The Senate defense committee vice chairman, Gregorio Honasan, said: “I’m sure this is more about saber rattling, threat and counterthreat. Even North Korea understands the global implications of what it plans to do. So this is not a doomsday scenario, I’m sure diplomacy would come into play.”
Honasan said there was no cause for panic. “For concern and worry, yes. But let’s not be paranoid … Realistically, our best bet is our regional and global alliances,” he stressed.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV warned “conflict may arise” in the Asia-Pacific if countries displeased with North Korea’s plan took stronger measures.
But Trillanes added: “The public isn’t alarmed too much because people are more concerned about the more evident gut issues like the rising oil and power prices, fare hike, and later on, the increase in the prices of commodities.” With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Cathy Yamsuan
Originally posted at 03:41 pm | Monday, March 26, 2012