MANILA, Philippines – Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu is leaving for the Middle East on Thursday (January 9) to oversee the immediate repatriation of Filipinos there amid the escalating tension between the United States and Iran that is affecting all other Gulf states.
President Rodrigo Duterte reinstated Cimatu as the Philippine Special Envoy to the Middle East, his position under the Arroyo administration, being the most experienced when it comes to conflicts in the Gulf region.
In response to his recommendation, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has raised crisis alert level 4 in Iraq which orders mandatory repatriation of all Filipinos living and working there.
Iraq holds a number of US military bases which are potential targets by Iranian retaliation following the death of Iran’s top military general Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike launched by the US.
“Pipilitin namin lalo na sa Iraq. Nagawa na namin ito kasi ayaw talaga nilang umalis. Hanggang sa ma-convince namin, (We will force them especially those in Iraq. We did this in the past because some Filipinos really refused to leave. (We will force them) until they are convinced,)” Cimatu said.
“(They assume, things are still okay.) They don’t know yet. This is a forced evacuation. We have to forced them really,” he added.
In a press briefing Wednesday (January 8), Cimatu confirmed that a total of 1,592 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) volunteered for repatriation and are set to leave Iraq as soon as they are cleared to go.
They will be moved out of Baghdad to Jordan and from there, they will be transferred to Dubai where they can board their flights to the Philippines.
Cimatu is confident that the process of repatriation will succeed for the safe evacuation of Filipinos, especially those who will move by land.
They will make sure to put up Philippine flags for identification.
Cimatu said Dubai will be repatriation’s central logistic base since there are direct flights from Dubai to the Philippines.
From the Philippines, Cimatu will fly to Doha, Qatar before he attempts entry to Iraq to facilitate the evacuation of Filipinos there.
One concern, Cimatu said, is the situation of Filipinos who are married to Iranian nationals.
Cimatu said they are ready to assist Philippine passport holders but their Iranian spouses may only leave if their government allows them to.
The Philippines also has an existing ban of workers to Lebanon and repatriation has been ongoing since the start of the civil unrest there.
Secretary Cimatu assured that all Philippine posts in different gulf states have contingency plans in place in case alert level 4 is raised in their areas of jurisdiction. MNP (with details from Rey Pelayo)
MIDDLE EAST – Philippine officials in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Iraq are calling on Filipinos there to heed their advisory and exercise vigilance amid the rising tension between the United States and Iran which will most likely affect the rest of the countries in the Middle East.
In an advisory, the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh cautioned the Filipino communities in KSA against potential security threats, thus Embassy officials advised Filipinos to observe security measures and protocols established by the Saudi government, and abide by the laws, rules, and regulations of the Kingdom.
Meanwhile, the Embassy assures Filipinos that procedures for potential evacuation and repatriation are in place should they be affected or displaced by the impending hostilities.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a long-time ally of the United States since the establishment of their full diplomatic relations in 1933.
Reports said regional activities by the slain Iranian General Qasem Soleimani frequently targeted Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Based on records of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the KSA is the second country in the world that hosts the most number of Filipinos, nearly a thousand less than one million in the agency’s 2014 data.
For security-related incidents, information on developing security situations on the ground, and requests for assistance, Filipinos in the Kingdom may contact the following:
A. Assistance-to-Nationals Section (ANS) – Philippine Embassy in Riyadh 1. Landline Number – 011-480-1918 2. Hotline Number – 056 989 3301 3.E-mail Address – firstname.lastname@example.org
B. Assistance-to-Nationals Section (ANS) – Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah 1. Hotline Numbers – 055 219 613 / 055 219 614 2. E-mail Address – email@example.com
SYDNEY, Australia – Authorities describe the ravaging wildfire as unprecedented as it has affected huge part of the country, has damaged thousands of homes, and has killed millions of Australia’s beautiful wildlife.
Locals say this is the worst disaster that ever happened in the history of Australia as the fire inferno shows no signs of stopping.
Though hopes are high that the problem will be solved at the soonest possible time, Philippine representatives in Australia are advising Filipinos to defer their travel to the land down under.
“Right now, we are not encouraging them to travel to Australia, but we are hoping that this is just a temporary situation,” appealed Philippine Deputy Consul General to Victoria, Anthony Andap.
“When things settle down, things are restored to normalcy, of course the same opportunities will be present for them,” he added.
The official said there are about 300 Filipinos or about 50 to 100 Filipino families who have already been evacuated from Gippsland, one of the worst-hit areas in Southeastern Australia.
Most of them are permanent residents and Australian citizens.
Andap confirmed that five Filipino families already lost their homes due to the fire.
Rey Clementer, a Filipino working in Wodonga, Victoria, meanwhile, chose to self-evacuate before things worsen.
“Umalis na ako sa Wodonga kasi masyado ng makapal ang usok doon at hinihika na ang asawa ko (We decided to leave Wodonga because the smoke was already getting thicker and my wife was already having asthma attacks),” he said.
“Ang sunog malapit na sa bahay namin at natatakot kaming abutin ng sunog at di kami lalo makaalis, mga 30 minutes na lang. Nakikita na namin yung sunog sa harap ng bahay namin kaya umalis na kami (The fire was already near our house and we feared that should it come closer, it would be difficult for us to leave. It was about 30 minutes near us. The fire was already right in front of our house so we decided to leave),” he added.
Deputy Consul Andap assured that the Philippine Government is ready to assist those who have been affected by the catastrophe.
“(We are committed) of course to ascertain the conditions of our kababayans and see to it that they are safely evacuated,” he said.
“Second that they get the relief operations that they need,” he assured.
The official also confirmed that contingency measures are already in place to help the Filipinos in Australia should the situation gets even worse. – MNP (with reports from Erly Briones)
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