The government is not taking anything for granted in ensuring the safety of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) as the Department of National Defense (DND) indicated it will still position assets and personnel despite an easing of tension in the Middle East.
DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Friday said plans to deploy Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) assets and personnel in the Middle East are still in place despite the lifting of mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in Iran and Lebanon.
Mandatory repatriation from Iraq remains in effect while ME rescue plan holds Filipinos in Iran, Libya and Lebanon who wish to come home because of the recent tension will be assisted by the government.
“We pray for the best and prepare for the worst. When it comes to the lives of our OFW abroad, we have to remain vigilant to ensure that we are ready to take them out of harm’s way if necessary,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles expressed.
“Personnel to be deployed in the conflict areas will exclusively assist in the repatriation and humanitarian operations,” DND spokesman Arsenio Andolong said in a statement, quoting Lorenzana.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) determines the level of alert and issues advisories to Filipinos for their safety and security.
In effect at the moment is Alert level 2 or the voluntary repatriation of OFW from Iran and Iraq.
This came after Tehran’s missile launch against two US bases in Iraq as retaliation to Washington’s drone strike which killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq last week.
The DND is also coordinating with agencies involved in the repatriation and ready to provide whatever support is necessary to ensure the safety of Filipinos in the Middle East.
Heat cool down
Alert Level 4, which orders the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in crisis-stricken areas, was raised in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, following the US airstrike.
However, Filipinos working and residing in Iran and Lebanon will no longer be covered by the mandatory repatriation after alert levels in the two countries have been downgraded.
The rise in tension between Washington and Tehran appeared to have de-escalated following Iran’s retaliatory strike against US military facilities in Iraq.
On Wednesday, Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government would respect any Filipinos who wish to stay in Iraq despite the stand-off between the US and Iraq.
There are an estimated 4,000 Filipinos in Iraq, according to the data from the DFA.
Nograles said Filipinos who will be repatriated would be first assembled to a “safe place” in the Middle East before they can go home.
Aid for the displaced
Nograles said OFW are assured of receiving immediate assistance from the government.
He said the current administration can either grant them livelihood packages or re-deploy them to other countries like Japan, Canada, Germany, China and Russia.
“Upon their return to the Philippines, we can offer livelihood packages or training from the Tesda or the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority,” the Palace official said.
We pray for the best and prepare for the worst.
“We can also offer their re-deployment if they want to work again overseas but no longer in the Middle East. That’s why we are opening our communications with Japan, Canada, Germany, China and Russia, hopefully to accommodate our OFW,” he added.
Nograles said OFWs, who will be repatriated from Iraq and have excellent construction skills, can also join the government in its implementation of the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.
Air rescue ready
Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade said the air sector guarantees the swift and effective implementation of the repatriation plan.
“When needed, our aviation sector and the whole of DoTr, will fully support the government’s efforts in this repatriation. We will ensure that there will be no delays in getting our OFWs home and safe,” Tugade said.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said it is also ready to comply with the government’s air requirements, air asset needs, and air traffic aid to facilitate air movement.
“CAAP will be doing its part and will be more than willing to support air operations that will ensure the safety of the Filipino people in this crucial time,” CAAP Director General Sydiongco said.
CAAP and airline firms Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and Air Asia have commited help in the possible repatriation of Filipinos from countries in the region affected by the tension between the United States and Iran.
with Francis T. Wakefield @tribunephl_FTW