DFA says contingency plans in place at MECO
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday directed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to look after the welfare of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Taiwan following a statement from the Chinese ambassador that referred to their safety as tensions rose over the self-governing island.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Eduardo De Vega said contingency measures are in place in case Filipinos need to be evacuated.
“(The President) has given a general order to always watch out for the safety and welfare of all OFWs, including in Taiwan,” De Vega said in a briefing.
He assured the public that there has been a contingency plan for a long time.
“It’s a thick book,” he said. “It’s there in the Manila Economic Cultural Office and labor offices.”
At a recent forum, Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian said Beijing “reserves the option of taking all necessary measures” should things escalate in the Taiwan Strait and advised Manila to oppose “Taiwan independence” if it really cares about the 150,000 OFWs there.
Huang’s statement came after the Philippine government allowed US troops access to four additional military bases under its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
The Chinese embassy later said the ambassador was misquoted.
De Vega said the Philippines “is a peaceful country.”
“We do not have the intent to undertake offensive military actions. There is no need for anyone to make statements that make it appear our OFWs are being targeted,” he said.
Mr. Marcos has maintained that the new EDCA sites would not be used for offensive attacks after the Chinese government noted that two of these bases were located at the northernmost tip of Luzon, just a few hundred kilometers away from Taiwan.
De Vega said no Filipino is seeking government help for repatriation in Taiwan as of yet.
Senators earlier said the government should have a contingency plan to evacuate 150,000 Filipinos working in Taiwan in case the brewing tensions with China escalate.
Senator Francis Escudero said this should be a given for every country where Filipinos are working.
Embassies and consulates must be prepared for any contingency, he added.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said the country must always be prepared where OFWs are concerned.
“Where we have a concentration of OFWs, we should always be ready with all sorts of contingency plans,” he said.
“When the contingency actually happens, the folder or plan should just be pulled from the shelf. That’s how we should be prepared,” he said.
Senator Francis Tolentino said he had already recommended that in case of an emergency, civilian commercial passenger ships should be commandeered by the government to facilitate the immediate evacuation of OFWs from Taiwan.
“We have to prepare a contingency plan utilizing commercial vessels assisted by the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard,” he added.
In the House, Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas criticized the remarks of the Chinese ambassador, saying he had “crossed the line” by citing the fate of OFWs in Taiwan to pressure Manila.
“Chinese Ambassador Huang is sending a veiled threat to our OFWs in Taiwan to pressure the Philippines to abide by the ‘One China’ principle. He clearly crossed the line, and Malacanang should recommend that he must be immediately recalled,” said Brosas, the nominee of the Gabriela party-list group in the House of Representatives.
“To tell Manila to ‘unequivocally oppose’ such [an] assertion of [Taiwan] independence and dangle the fate of our OFWs – that is simply unacceptable,” she added.
The lawmaker said that while Filipinos should oppose the designation of new shared locations under the EDCA, this does not mean that they should tolerate Beijing’s aggressive acts in the West Philippine Sea.
“From the building of artificial islands in the contested waters to the harassment of our fishermen and laser-tagging of our Coast Guard, China has done so much to cause unrest and concern in the peace and security in the West Philippine Sea. It has no ascendancy to lecture us on ensuring regional stability and de-escalating the tension in the contested territories,” she said.
Brosas said Gabriela will continue to oppose any act of aggression and foreign intervention, whether from Washington or from Beijing.