Faced with imminent dangers amid tensions between the United States (US) and Iran, Filipinos must heed the Philippine government’s desire to repatriate them, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles recently said.
“I suppose may mga mixed reactions diyan (there have been mixed reactions from Filipinos in Iraq). But at the end of the day, ‘pag sinabi nating (when we say) mandatory repatriation, no ifs and buts diyan (there). That’s for the safety of everybody,” Nograles said in a media interview.
“Tuloy pa rin ang mandatory repatriation natin kasi (Our mandatory repatriation continues because it is) better safe for everybody,” he added.
The mandatory repatriation in Iraq remains in place and the deployment of Filipino workers to the Gulf state is still prohibited, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Thursday.
Alert Level 4, which orders the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in crisis-stricken areas, was raised in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon, following the US’ airstrike in Baghdad that resulted in the death of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
However, Filipinos working and residing in Iran and Lebanon will no longer be covered by the mandatory repatriation imposed by the Philippine government after alert levels in the two countries have been downgraded.
The rise in tensions between the Washington and Tehran appeared to de-escalate following Iran’s retaliatory strike against US military facilities in Iraq.
On Wednesday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Philippine government would respect any Filipinos who wish to stay in Iraq despite the stand-off between the US and Iraq.
Despite the news of the seemingly tamed crisis in the Middle East, Nograles said the government is still preparing for the mobilization of resources to ensure the safe return of Filipinos from Iraq to the Philippines.
There are an estimated 4,000 Filipinos in Iraq, according to the data from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Nograles said Filipinos who will be repatriated would be first assembled to a “safe place” in the Middle East before they can go home.
“‘Pag sinasabi nating (When we say) mandatory repatriation, of course, you will apply it to the fullest extent and this is for the safety of OFWs, our fellow Filipinos,” he said.
“So the primary objective right now is just to get them out of Iraq. Dadalhin sa (We will bring them to) safe haven. ‘Pag dating sa (When they arrive in) safe haven, obviously, we want to bring them back to the Philippines,” the Cabinet Secretary added.
President Rodrigo Duterte has created a special working panel that will oversee the evacuation and repatriation of Filipinos from the Middle East.
The committee is chaired by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and vice-chaired by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
Members of the panel include Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade.
The Budget department announced Wednesday that around PHP1.8 billion in government funds have been readied for the repatriation of Filipinos in the Middle East.
Nograles assured returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) that they will receive immediate assistance from the government.
He said the current administration can either grant them livelihood packages, or re-deploy them to other countries like Japan, Canada, Germany, China, and Russia.
“‘Pag dating sa Pilipinas, io-offer naman natin sila ng livelihood packages, io-offer naman natin ang mga training sa TESDA (Upon their return to the Philippines, we can offer livelihood packages or training from the Tesda or the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority),” he said.
“Io-offer din naman natin ang kanilang re-deployment (We can also offer their re-deployment) if they want to work again overseas but no longer in the Middle East. Kaya nga pinagbubuksan natin ang ating (That’s why we are opening our) communications with Japan, Canada, Germany, China, [and] Russia, hopefully to accommodate our OFWs,” he added.
Nograles said OFWs, who will be repatriated from Iraq and have excellent construction skills, can also join the government in its implementation of the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.
“In fact, all of our infrastructure projects are all over the country so it does not matter kung saan man sila nakatira (where they live). Kasi syempre kapag sinabi mong OFWs (When you say OFWs), they come from different regions,” he said.
“But all of our regions will be beneficiaries ng mga infrastructure projects ng gobyerno (of the government’s infrastructure projects). So kahit doon sa kanilang sariling region or sa kanilang sarili probinsya, siguradong may project doon na pwede nilang pag-trabahuhan (So they can work in their region or province because there are infrastructure projects there).”
The government has allotted around PHP9 trillion for the implementation of around 100 key infrastructure projects and over 10,000 small infrastructure projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program.
Around 38 of the 100 big-ticket infrastructure projects are expected to be completed by 2022, while 22 are “partially operational or substantially completed” and the remaining 40 would be finished “beyond 2022.”
The 35 big-ticket infrastructure projects are ongoing, 32 will commence construction in the next six to eight months, 21 are in the advanced stages of government approval, and 12 in the advanced stages of a feasibility study. (Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos, PNA)