Duterte sends team to Middle East amid US-Iran conflict

By CNN Philippines Staff

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered top Philippine officials to travel to the Middle East and check the welfare of Filipinos and overseas Filipino workers in the region amid the escalating conflict between the United States and Iran. 

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Tuesday said that during the Cabinet meeting on Monday, Duterte tasked Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu — his former special envoy to the Middle East — to fly to the region immediately to lay the groundwork for the evacuation of the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in the conflict areas.

The President also directed Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Abdullah Mamao to head to Iran and Iraq on Tuesday to talk to the governments. He was asked to deliver an urgent message from Duterte to keep all Filipinos safe amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran following a U.S. airstrike on January 3 that killed Tehran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, in Iraq.

Philippine troops are already preparing to bring home Filipinos from the affected countries in the event an armed or military warfare happens between US and Iran.

A special working committee was also created to draw up measures for the repatriation of Filipinos. Included in the group are Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior Chief Eduardo Año, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin, Labor Chief Silvestre Bello III, and Transportation head Arthur Tugade. Duterte instructed concerned government agencies to prepare for back up plans for those who will be displaced due to the conflict.

Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos residing and working in the Middle East will be affected in case of a forced repatriation. There are 1,006 registered Filipinos in Iran, who are mostly permanent residents with their family members, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs. It added there are also 50 documented Filipino workers in the country. In Iraq, there are currently 1,190 documented and 450 undocumented Filipinos. Meanwhile, there is a total of 237,615 Filipinos in Kuwait.

“PRRD 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,” Panelo said in a statement.

The President earlier suggested that Congress convene a special session to create a standby fund in case Filipino workers in Iran need to be repatriated.

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