Gov’t won’t force OFWs to leave Iraq: Palace

The Duterte administration will respect the possible decision of Filipinos to stay in Iraq despite the looming war between the United States (US) and Iran, MalacaAang said on Wednesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo admitted that it is impossible to impose mandatory repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Iraq, especially when the fighting between the US and Iran begins.

Unang-una, kung meron na talagang open hostilities, repatriation is out of the question kasi shooting war na eh (First and foremost, if there are open hostilities already, repatriation is out of the question because there is already a shooting war), Panelo said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

Now, with respect doon sa mga ayaw, paano natin pipilitin yun kung ayaw (with respect to those who do not want to be repatriated, how can we force them if they do not like it)? We cannot forcibly drag them to a ship or to whatever to bring them out, he added.

Panelo's statement came after the Philippine Embassy in Iraq announced that President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered all Filipinos living and working in Iraq to return to the Philippines.

There are an estimated 4,000 Filipinos in Iraq, based on the data provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

The President's latest order was issued after the highest threat alert was raised in Baghdad amid the escalating tensions between the US and Iraq.

Alert Level 4, which calls for mandatory repatriation, is issued when there is a large-scale internal conflict or full-blown external account, according to the DFA's website.

Iran's top military commander, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a US airstrike carried out in Iraq last week, a move that prompted Iran to vow revenge against Washington.

The US, in turn, warned to attack around 52 Iranian sites, in case Iran launches a war against Washington.

On Monday, President Duterte sought the repatriation of 1.2 million OFWs in the Middle East, as he feared that the tensions between the US and Iran would harm Filipinos.

Evacuate to a "safe place" while the government's main goal is to repatriate Filipinos, Panelo said.

The Palace official said the government is looking for a place in the Middle East that would serve as a temporary home to Filipinos who will be asked to leave Iraq in the meantime.

Palagay ko (I think), if you will give them a choice between being placed in a safe place and coming home, eh pipiliin nila doon muna sa safe place (they would choose to stay in a safe place), he said.

We have to place them in a safe place. Hindi naman sila kailangan umuwi habang nagkakaroon ng giyera doon o digmaan. Syempre hindi mo naman maiuuwi 'yan talaga eh. Hahanapan mo ng lugar na ligtas malapit dun like Saudi Arabia (They don't need to return home while there is a war. Of course, you can't repatriate them. You have to look for a safe place near Iraq, like Saudi Arabia), Panelo added.

The President admitted on Tuesday that his administration is bracing for the possibility that the current stand-off between the US and Iran could turn into a "worst-case" scenario for the Filipinos working in the Gulf states.

Duterte said he has asked the Department of National Defense to look for ways on how to help the OFWs "make their way out" of the Gulf states.

He said he has also instructed the Department of Finance to reserve a certain amount for that possible exigency of Filipino migrant workers in the Middle East.

Panelo said the country's frigates have been deployed near the Middle East to ensure the security of Filipinos.

He added that the government would provide necessary assistance to OFWs who will go back to the Philippines.

He also assured them of job opportunities upon their return to the country.

'Yung mga ongoing projects natin, bibigyan sila ng preference na magkaroon ng trabaho dahil madi-dislocate sila 'pag umuwi sila dito (We have ongoing projects here and they can have their job preference because they will surely get dislocated when they return home), Panelo said.

Source: Philippines News Agency

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