Though tensions between the United States and Iran have cooled down, the government is still moving to get OFWs out of harm’s way after Iran bombarded a US airbase in Iraq last week in retaliation for the killing of Iran’s top military general Qasem Soleimani.
STAR/File
First 12 OFWs from Iraq arrive in Philippines today
Michael Punongbayan (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2020 - 12:01am

MANILA, Philippines — The first 12 returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Baghdad, Iraq are scheduled to arrive in the country today, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

Though tensions between the United States and Iran have cooled down, the government is still moving to get OFWs out of harm’s way after Iran bombarded a US airbase in Iraq last week in retaliation for the killing of Iran’s top military general Qasem Soleimani.

Accompanied by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the returning OFWs will fly to Manila from Doha, Qatar on a Qatar Airways flight.

Lorenzana yesterday said the OFWs will leave Iraq for Qatar Monday night and then leave Doha shortly after midnight, unless there would be flight delays because of the Taal Volcano eruption. 

He added that Overseas Workers Welfare Administration administrator Hans Leo Cacdac also left for Saudi Arabia Monday to personally see to the welfare of OFWs in the Middle East and assist in the repatriation effort.

“Requests for repatriation from OFWs in Iraq, Libya and other Middle East hotspots have been received by our embassies and consulates and their exit clearances are now being processed,” Lorenzana said.

He noted that the Middle East Repatriation Team in Doha, composed of Environment Secretary and special envoy to the Middle East Roy Cimatu, Ambassador Alan Timbayan, Labor Attaché David Dicang, Vice Consul Benjamin Celedio Jr., Administrative Officer Cotawato Arimao and Consul General Roussel Reyes, are exploring all possible routes of repatriation by commercial airlines from Baghdad and Erbil in Iraq to Doha and then to Manila.

He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, as coordination by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. – through diplomatic missions with other countries that may provide landing and/or docking clearances as well as access to refueling and replenishment facilities – has been ongoing ever since President Duterte gave his order to prepare for the repatriation of Filipinos in the Middle East.

Lorenzana said the frigate BRP Gregorio de Pilar and the dock landing ship BRP Davao del Sur of the Philippine Navy, with a company-sized contingent of AFP humanitarian assistance personnel onboard, have been designated for the repatriation mission.

The Philippine Air Force, meanwhile, has two C-130s and one C-295 transport aircraft ready to fly to wherever they may be directed to pick up returning Filipinos and bring them to safety.

Lorenzana, chairman of the committee on the repatriation of Filipinos in the Middle East, said the AFP will no longer be sending two battalions of uniformed troops to help in repatriation efforts.

He explained that the Department of Foreign Affairs, Cimatu and the Department of Labor and Employment commented in the committee’s last meeting that it may not be wise to send uniformed servicemen to the Middle East due to the sensitivities of the countries there. A small contingent of unarmed servicemen in civilian attire would be sent instead.

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