Gov’t urged to prepare evacuation plan for OFWs
MANILA, Philippines — The country’s largest labor group has called on President Rodrigo Duterte to prepare an evacuation plan for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East, in the event of a sudden escalation of hostilities there after a US strike killed Iran’s top general on Friday.
Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) president Raymond Mendoza said in a statement on Saturday, “We call on the President to convene a multigovernment agency panel that would device an early escape plan which would lead or supervise a possible relocation or repatriation of our OFWs before they are directly affected by the escalating armed conflict in the region.”
Recent data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration showed the Middle East as the top regional destination of OFWs — estimated at 1.2 million in that region.
Saudi Arabia, a key US ally which has been in a decadeslong proxy war with Iran, has the largest OFW population, with one out of four OFWs deployed there.
On Friday, the United States launched an airstrike outside Baghdad international airport that killed Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani, whom Washington regards as a terrorist. The attack is anticipated to provoke Iran’s retaliation anywhere in the Middle East and perhaps elsewhere.
In its statement, OFW advocacy group Blas F. Ople Policy Center advised OFWs in the Middle East “to steer clear of political conversations and commentaries online” as social media platforms may be monitored by their host countries in the region.
“An innocent post even in the vernacular can easily be misinterpreted by the host government so it is best to stay silent and not to interfere or participate in political conversations,” the center’s head and former Labor Undersecretary Susan Ople said.
She suggested further, “OFWs should have their company IDs and passports in their possession, avoid unnecessary travel and notify the nearest embassy or consulate in case of any perceived security threat. Let us not take these unfolding events lightly.”
In its advisory, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said, “Filipinos in Iraq are strongly advised to coordinate closely with the Philippine Embassy and their employers in the event [a] mandatory evacuation will be necessary.”
The Philippine Embassy in Iraq maintains Crisis Alert Level 3 (voluntary repatriation phase) in all areas except the Iraqi Kurdistan region in the north, which remains under Alert Level 1 (precautionary phase).
A deployment ban on new workers to Iraq is in effect.
“The situation in Iraq is being closely monitored and the DFA is prepared to send a rapid response team should it be deemed necessary,” the agency said.
There are 450 undocumented and 1,190 documented Filipinos in Iraq, the DFA said, citing information from the embassy.
Activist lawmakers in the House of Representatives criticized the US assassination of Soleimani in their statements.
“Kabataan party list stands in solidarity with the people of Iran and Iraq in their calls of condemning the government of the United States and the call to end imperialism,” Rep. Sarah Elago said.
—With reports from Jerome Aning and Melvin Gascon
Subscribe to our global nation newsletter
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.