The government has called off the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos
in Iran and Lebanon following what appeared to be a de-escalation of tensions
between Washington and Tehran.
READ: ‘Iraq will remain zone of conflict past de-escalation’
Crisis Alert Level 4
remained in effect in Iraq, however, which means mandatory evacuation
will push through for at least 1,600 Filipino workers there, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said.
READ: Mandatory repatriation okayed
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, moreover, will still not process any application for the deployment of workers to Iran and Lebanon.
“Initially, the level of alert for Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon are the same at Alert Level 4. Although it was unofficial, I was informed yesterday that the alert level in Lebanon was put down to level 2 and I understand that there’s no more alert level in Iran,” Bello said in a statement.
Environment Secretary and former special envoy to the Middle East Roy Cimatu said now is the most opportune time to move out the Filipinos in Iraq as tensions diffuse.
“This is the time to get out while there are no military operations,” said Cimatu, who is bound for Qatar where he would oversee the evacuation efforts.
READ: M.E. strikes spark call for evac
“We have to be ready in case there are incidents,” Cimatu added.
Speaking on the ANC news channel, Susan Ople, a former labor undersecretary and head of non-profit overseas Filipino workers advocate group Blas F. Ople Policy Center, said the government needs to update its contingency plans.
“A massive repatriation may not be necessary but it’s also good for the crisis committee of the Palace, DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment), DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) to keep abreast of what’s going on,” she told ANC’s Early Edition.
“This can be a good opportunity... to update existing contingency plans, develop a network of influencers in the community that embassies can tap in case a crisis does erupt, and for our crisis managers to touch base with the leaders of these host government.”
The Bureau of Immigration said it was bracing for the possible influx of returning workers if the crisis in the Middle East worsens.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente has ordered all BI personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and other international ports to prepare and be ready for any eventuality should the conflict escalate further.
BI port operations division chief Grifton Medina instructed airport heads to ensure that all terminals are fully manned to ensure the smooth processing of possible repatriates.
Manila International Airport Authority general manager Eddie Monreal on Thursday alerted his men and ordered them to be prepared for the expected influx of workers from the Middle East.
“We will support government efforts the best we can. We shall provide holding areas where OFWs can be processed and given briefings. We are also ready to deploy our medical team at the holding areas for those who may need medical help upon arrival,” the MIAA chief said.
The airport authority is part of the inter-agency team in repatriation and has been involved in previous mass repatriations that the government has undertaken in previous years.
Cimatu on Thursday urged Filipino workers to move out of Iran and Iraq immediately.
“We are preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best,” he said.
He said the situation in Iran and its neighboring countries is “unpredictable,” and that “the worst might come.”
“We have to move them out. We won’t go wrong if they move out,” he added.
“The nature of the situation is unpredictable. Anything can happen in the form of of attack or missile... The problem is [also] the time of the attack. There is still time to repatriate while some airports are still open and the roads, [too],” he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has designated Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as head of a new government committee overseeing the repatriation of citizens from the conflict areas, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
He said National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has been designated as the vice chairman of the Committee.
Others members of the Committee were Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade.
The chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee on labor, Rep. Eric Pineda, on Thursday supported the order of President Duterte to repatriate Filipino workers in Iraq.
“I call upon our 4,000 overseas Filipino workers in Iraq to closely coordinate with our diplomatic post so that they may be able to facilitate moving them from harm’s way,” Pineda said. With Maricel V. Cruz
READ: New attacks trigger fears of US-Iran proxy war
READ: M.E. strikes spark call for evac
READ: Letter on US pullout from Iraq a ‘mistake’