By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos
MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, a former special envoy to the Middle East, to meet with officials of the Gulf states and discuss the Philippines’ plan to evacuate Filipino migrant workers there, Malacañang said on Tuesday.
The Chief Executive gave the directive during the 45th Cabinet meeting held at Malacañan Palace on Monday night, said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a statement.
Duterte’s order came as he feared for the imminent danger that Filipino migrant workers might face amid the escalating conflict between the United States and Iran, Panelo said.
“Foremost in the mind of the President is the safety of Filipinos in the Middle East and he assures the Filipino community and the nation that the Philippine Government is doing everything it can in making sure that our fellow citizens abroad are out of harm’s way,” the Palace official said.
“President Duterte likewise tasked Secretary Roy Cimatu, his Special Envoy to the Middle East prior to the latter’s appointment at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to fly to the Middle East immediately to establish coordination with the host countries and lay the groundwork for the evacuation,” he added.
The President’s latest move was made following the death of Qassem Soleimani, top Iranian military commander who was assassinated last week in a drone strike by the US in Baghdad, Iraq.
The US action prompted the Iran government to announce revenge for Soleimani’s death.
However, Washington threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites, in the event that Iran attacks US citizens or assets.
Panelo said Duterte has likewise instructed Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Abdullah Mamao to proceed to Iran and Iraq on Tuesday to deliver the President’s special messages to the Iranian and Iraqi governments.
The messages to Iran and Iraq contained the President’s expression of concern over the safety of the Filipinos working in the two host countries, and conveyed his urgent desire that “no Filipinos be harmed in the course of the ongoing conflicts,” Panelo noted.
Gov’t agencies told to ensure OFWs’ stability
Panelo said the President also directed all concerned state offices to look for ways to ensure the stability of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East once they are repatriated to the Philippines,
“PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) likewise directed the appropriate government instrumentalities to prepare for contingencies that will absorb displaced workers to government projects so as to prevent the economic dislocation of their families upon their return,” he said.
On Monday, Duterte asked Congress to prepare a “standby fund” that could be utilized for the possible repatriation of Filipino workers in the Middle East.
Panelo said the President is “gravely concerned” with the condition and safety of OFWs in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Iran and nearby Arab nations.
“He (Duterte) stressed that it is the paramount duty of the government to give protection to the Filipinos whenever their lives are in peril and wherever they are,” he said.
Special working panel formed
In a bid to protect OFWs in the Middle East from any harm, Duterte formed a six-man special working panel composed of his Cabinet members, Panelo said.
Panelo said the committee consists of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperson Jr. and Secretaries Teodoro Locsin Jr. (Foreign Affairs), Delfin Lorenzana (Defense), Silvestre Bello III (Labor), Eduardo Año (Local Government), and Arthur Tugade (Transportation).
“The President created a special working committee composed of the Secretaries of National Defense and of the Interior and Local Government, the National Security Adviser, as well as the Secretaries of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Transportation, to draw up plans and measures for the evacuation of our countrymen,” he said.
Panelo said the Armed Forces of the Philippines were also ordered to prepare its air and naval assets for the evacuation of OFWs, in case armed or military warfare between the US and Iran takes place. (PNA)