Duterte forms committee to draw up evacuation plans of OFWs in Middle East
MANILA, Philippines—President Rodrigo Duterte has formed a special committee to draw up an emergency evacuation plan of Filipinos in the Middle East should the rising tension between the United States and Iran escalate into a war.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that Duterte issued the directive during Monday night’s Cabinet meeting in Malacañang as the Chief Executive expressed grave concern for the safety of millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the region.
The committee will be composed of the Secretaries of National Defense and of the Interior and Local Government, the National Security Adviser, as well as the Secretaries of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Transportation, Panelo said in a statement Tuesday morning.
The President earlier ordered the military to prepare its air and naval assets for the possible repatriation of OFWs in the Middle East after the US launched an airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, in Iraq.
Duterte then directed the appropriate government agencies to prepare for contingencies to absorb displaced workers to government projects upon their return to the country.
“President Duterte likewise tasked Secretary Roy Cimatu, his Special Envoy to the Middle East prior to the latter’s appointment at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), to fly to the Middle East immediately to establish coordination with the host countries and lay the groundwork for the evacuation,” Panelo noted.
In addition, Duterte asked Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Abdullah Mamao “to proceed to Iran and Iraq today to deliver the special messages of the President of the Philippines to the Iranian and Iraqi Governments on the safety of the Filipinos working in the aforesaid countries, specifically conveying his urgent desire that no Filipinos be harmed in the course of the ongoing conflicts.”
In a speech in Malacañang Monday afternoon, Duterte asked Congress to convene for a special session to discuss the tension in the Middle East. He also asked Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez to source out “standby funds” to be used once the situation in the region turns into armed hostilities.
Based on the latest Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data, about 1.26 million Filipinos in 2018 are in the Middle East or West Asia, which includes Bahrain, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
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