With the rising tensions between the United States and Iran, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is preparing for the possible repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East following the orders from President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday.
“The President has already expressed his instructions, his guidance. The AFP have planned for it. We’re going to give him the details as soon as possible so he’ll be able to give us and tell us what date and time to execute our plan,” said the AFP spokesperson BGen Edgard Arevalo.
Arevalo said a Navy asset and three Air Force planes are ready to bring home OFWs in the area amidst the tensions between the said two countries.
He also admitted that the repatriation will be a challenge as this will be the first time to carry out such a mission that is far away from the Philippines. Repatriation efforts often happen domestically with the use of commercial planes.
“With distance this far, I don’t have in my recollection of such repatriation missions executed… If what is at stake is the welfare of fellow Filipinos then we’re going to embark on this mission and we’ll get this done,” Arevalo added.
Killing of Qasem Soleimani
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. stated earlier that the government will not evacuate or repatriate the OFWs in Middle East by force in the middle of the escalating fight after Washington released an airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani, Tehran’s top general in Iraq.
Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian President, said the US has done a “grave mistake” that Americans would pay for not only today, but also in the coming years.
However, US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that Washington targets 52 Iranian sites for attacks in case Tehran strikes any US asset or Americans.
Currently, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that there are 1,006 registered Filipinos in Iran who are mostly permanent residents with their family members. Also, 50 documented OFWs are present in the country.
The agency has also warned Filipinos to not go to Iraq until further notice. Meanwhile, Filipino workers who were already in the country were asked to coordinate with the Philippine Embassy and their employers for the needed mandatory evacuation.
All areas in Iraq are currently in crisis Alert Level 3 or voluntary repatriation, except in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region which in still in precautionary phase or Alert Level 1.
There is also an existing ban on deployment of new workers and household workers to the country.
Nonetheless, there are 1,190 documented and 450 undocumented Filipinos in Iraq, based on the Embassy’s latest figures. More than half are in Kurdistan region and 847 are in Baghdad area. Most of those OFWs work with US and other foreign facilities, while others are in regular commercial establishments.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) Officer-in-Charge Archie Gamboa said that Duterte has tasked their agency to monitor possible avenge from sympathizers in the country.