Activist groups caution against siding with US in tension with Iran
Iranian mourners gather for the burial of slain top general Qasem Soleimani in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport Friday in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets.
AFP / Atta Kenare

Activist groups caution against siding with US in tension with Iran

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - January 7, 2020 - 4:39pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:15 p.m.) — Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo at a press briefing in Malacañang disclosed on Tuesday that President Rodrigo Duterte would side with the United States, the Philippines' longtime ally and former colonizer, amid rising tension in the Middle East. 

Tensions between the US and Iran, as well as Iraq, have been brimming since a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump on an airport in Baghdad resulted in the death of one of Iran's top commanders. 

Iran has vowed to retaliate against the United States and its allies amid international calls for restraint.

"If you will not give justice for the Filipino people, I will get them. There is always a time for reckoning, that time is now," the presidential mouthpiece said, quoting the chief executive on how the Philippines will react if Filipinos are caught in the dispute. 

"The terms will be very different from the previous ones. If they will harm the Filipinos, he will not sit down idly," Panelo said.

Duterte told reporters on Tuesday afternoon, however, that the US must ask for permission before using bases in the Philippines as staging grounds for operations.

CNN Philippines quotes the president as saying he will not allow the US to launch missiles and rockets from the Philippines and that sending Filipino troops to help the US is "out of the question."

'US biggest threat to Filipinos'

Leftists groups Gabriela, International League of People's Struggle Philippines, Kilusang Mayo Uno and Kadamay meanwhile held a protest in front of the US embassy on Monday to condemn what they called American aggression. 

Militant group Migrante International Alliance of Filipino Migrant Organizations in a statement condemned Western imperialism and urged the administration to reject the prospect of war.

"Rather than being a passive onlooker in the international community, the Duterte government must present its objection against the US war of aggression on Iran and persuade Trump to permanently pull out US troops in the Middle East to de-escalate conflict and to allow the advent of just peace and stability in the region," Migrante said. 

"The US military has no business remaining in the Middle East other than to stoke bloody hostilities against non-dominated countries like Iran and Syria."

The national democratic activist movements believes imperialism, particularly by the US, has kept the majority of Filipinos poor.

Migrante also called for "offering repatriation enlistment to Filipinos and setting forth long-term reintegration programme for returning OFWs" rather than the administration's "pretensions of preparedness for mass repatriation."

'US started the tension'

Bayan Muna secretary general Renato Reyes in response to Panelo's pronouncement also tweeted, "Good Lord! It is the US that started and escalated the conflict with Iran."

"The US is the biggest threat to the safety of Filipinos in the Middle East. Why hasn't Duterte condemned Trump and his rogue actions that violate international law? Tuta lang?" he added.

KMU also told Philstar.com that "the Filipino people have no interest in this war." 

In an earlier statement, KMU said, "As with all imperialist wars, the one being launched and planned by the Trump regime will victimize the working people in target countries and will use as cannon fodder American youths from working-class backgrounds."

'Perfect relations'

Ties between the Philippines and the United States have been strained since the Obama administration raised concerns of possible human rights violations in the government's "war on drugs" and since the Duterte administration anounced an independent foreign policy that sought warmer ties with China and Russia. 

Although Trump has professed admiration for Duterte, the US budget law for 2020 includes a provision in a Senate resolution barring officials involved in the "wrongful detention" of Sen. Leila De Lima, an outspoken Duterte critic.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin downplayed the effects of the provision, saying that US-Philippines ties were still "perfect."

KMU secretary general Jerome Adonis in a separate text message to Philstar.com said, "Pareho naman kasing human rights violator, murderer, korap si Duterte at Trump kaya hindi po nakakapagtaka na nasa side siya ng US."

(Both are human rights violators, murderers and corrupt so it is no surprise that he will side with the US)

Rising oil prices

A labor group also said that rising tension between the US and Iran would likely result higher fuel prices that low-income workers would need a "cushion" from. 

“Any increase in prices would be harsh, if not fatal, not only to four-tenths of our labor force that belong to the informal economy but also to those in the formal sector who are already suffering from stagnated and starvation wages,” Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) chairperson Leody de Guzman said in an earlier statement on Sunday.

Adonis said that these prices would affect OFWs as much as it would Filipinos back home.

"Marami tayong mga OFW sa middle East na maaapektuhan ng gyerang ito," he said. 

"Sasamantalahin din ng mga ganid na oil company para itaas ang presyo na ang katumbas ay pagtaas ng presyo ng mga bilihin. Kawawa naman si Juan Dela Cruz."  

Filipinos in the Middle East 

Although data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration documents 679 OFWs in Iran, De Guzman expressed concern that there could be many more undocumented Filipinos in the region. 

Sen. Imee Marcos also urged the administration to pay attention to OFWs in the Middle East at large, and not just Iran and Iraq.

According to the World Bank in 2008, Filipinos made up the fourth-largest group of foreigners in Saudi Arabia. 

The latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority also showed that one in four, or 24 percent of OFWs worked in Saudi Arabia, while 15% of OFWs were employed in the United Arab Emirates. Additionally, 5.7% worked in Kuwait while 5.2% were in Qatar. 

In total, the PSA said, there were an estimated 2.3 million OFWs working abroad. More than half of them were women. 

"Ikinahihiya si Duterte ng mga Pilipino sa pagpanig Kay Trump sa panggigyera sa Iran, Iraq at buong middle East," said Adonis. 

"If Filipinos in the Middle East we’re harmed in the war, it is the wrongdoing of the United States which instigated the war in the first place," KMU asserted.

But the President did not seem to share their thinking, as Panelo said, "If the Filipinos are harmed, he will side with the Americans."  — with reports from The STAR/Christina Mendez

BAYAN MUNA GABRIELA PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN ATTY. SALVADOR PANELO
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