Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III said rapid response teams have been constituted for rapid deployment amid rising tension between the US and Iran.
These teams will brief the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East and ensure a well-coordinated and safe repatriation of our workers, Bello said in a statement on Wednesday, January 8, 2020.
Each team will encourage the OFWs to be repatriated back to the Philippines. However, Bello said they cannot force those who want to stay.
“We will ask them to join the repatriation efforts, however, if they do not cooperate, then we can no longer do anything about it. We will also get in touch with their employers to let our OFWs come home,” Bello said.
Government records show that a total of 2,174,611 Filipinos, documented and undocumented, are in the Middle East, including Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, and Israel.
There are a total of 2,191 Filipinos in Iraq and 1,184 in Iran.
The rapid response teams will be led by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu who, based on instructions of President Rodrigo Duterte, will oversee repatriation from Iraq; Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Bernard Olalia who will be sent to Lebanon; Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac who will be sent to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; and Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Cimatu, special envoy to the Middle East, said via Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Twitter posts that he was scheduled to fly to Iraq Thursday and arrive in the Middle East country by Thursday evening.
"We will do everything to bring out the Filipinos there (Iraq)," he said. He also assured that they will make sure each transit point is safe before moving the Filipinos.
He said the plan is to bring the Filipinos in Iraq to Turkmenistan, then to Ankara in Turkey, where they can take a flight for Manila.
Cimatu said OFWs who cannot secure documents clearing them of work duties will be provided travel documents to make sure they can be repatriated immediately.
Bello said his department has set aside an initial P600 million for the immediate repatriation and assistance to OFWs in the Middle East.
He also said alternative overseas and local employment are being readied for affected workers.
The DOLE chief said he met with officials of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of National Defense (DND), National Security Advisers, NICA, and with the Mindanao Development Authority to discuss the situation of the Filipino workers in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and other neighboring countries affected by the tension.
“I informed the group that I am sending my senior officials to inform our OFWs the situation of the US-Iran tension and the plans of the government for repatriation,” Bello said.
Cacdac said that aside from the P100-million repatriation fund, the Labor department has a P500-million standby fund for crisis and emergency situations which can be utilized immediately.
As of Wednesday, Bello said no OFW has expressed willingness, nor have communicated with the DOLE, to ask for repatriation assistance from the government.
“As of now, we have not received any request from our OFW that they want to go home. Only their families have contacted us to check on their situation and for updates on the said countries,” Bello said.
President Duterte, however, has ordered the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in Iraq. The Philippine Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq is on Alert Level 4, which means evacuation and mandatory repatriation.
Repatriated Filipinos will be provided with livelihood assistance, offered with training under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and will be encouraged to apply for other overseas job markets such as Russia, Japan, and Canada.
Meanwhile, OFWs on the said Arab countries and their families are advised by Bello to call Hotline 1348 and 1349 of the Labor department should they need repatriation or any forms of assistance from the government. (Ventures Cebu)