THE country’s three major airlines — Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, and Philippines AirAsia — have committed to help the government in the repatriation of Filipinos working and living in the countries in the Middle East that are affected by the Iran-United States conflict.
The repatriated Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) will be given assistance once they return to the Philippines, with the government currently in discussions with other countries about job opportunities in case the repatriated workers want to work abroad again.
“Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines have agreed to accommodate, free of charge, stranded Filipinos in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) or in any of its available Middle East flights, once the plans for the repatriation have been outlined,” Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Director-General Jim C. Sydiongco was quoted as saying in a news release on Friday.
He added: “AirAsia, on the other hand, has agreed to the possible allocation and free accommodation of repatriated Filipinos that need to go back to their respective provinces in their domestic flights.”
This development comes after the Department of National Defense, the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) drafted plans on Thursday for the evacuation of Filipinos living or working in areas affected by the Iran-US conflict.
Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade said the airline sector has guaranteed “the swift and effective implementation of the repatriation plan.”
“When needed, our aviation sector, and the whole of DOTr, will fully support the government’s efforts in this repatriation. We will ensure that there will be no delays in getting our OFWs home and safe,” Mr. Tugade was quoted as saying.
For his part, Mr. Sydiongco said: “CAAP will be doing its part and will be more than willing to support air operations that will ensure the safety of the Filipino people in this crucial time.”
In a separate statement on Friday, Philippine Airlines President and Chief Operating Officer Gilbert F. Santa Maria said: “We will carry, free of charge, affected Iran-based or Iraq-based Filipinos via PAL’s network of flights from the Middle East to Manila.”
“These OFWs who are certified for repatriation by the Philippine government can make use of available seats on our regular Manila-bound flights from Dubai in the UAE, or alternately from Doha in Qatar, and Riyadh or Dammam in Saudi Arabia,” he added.
ASSISTING REPATRIATED OFWS
In an interview with reporters on Friday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said that the government is currently speaking with countries such as Canada, Japan, Germany, China, and Russia about possible jobs for OFWs repatriated from Iran and Iraq.
“I-o-offer namin sila ng redeployment kung gusto nila to work again overseas (We will be offering them redeployment if they want to work again overseas) but not again in the Middle East… We have so many communications with Japan, even Germany, China, Russia… hopefully to accommodate the OFWs,” he said, and added that by law, repatriated OFWs will also be given livelihood assistance.
For now, Mr. Nograles said the main priority is to ensuring the safe exit of Filipinos from Iraq.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday said that Iran “appears to be standing down” after it attacked two American bases in Iraq with more than a dozen missiles a day earlier.
The attacks were in retaliation for a US strike that killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad’s international airport.
Special Envoy to the Middle East and Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipinos Abdullah Mamao has been ordered by President Rodrigo R. Duterte to travel to Iran and Iraq to ensure authorities there are giving the highest level of protection to Filipinos. Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, who is also the Special Envoy to the Middle East, is in Qatar according to Mr. Nograles. The Philippine government is looking at Qatar as a “safe place” to assemble OFWs from Iraq before they are sent home to the Philippines.
The Philippine government earlier said it would send two battalions of soldiers to help evacuate more than 1,000 Filipinos from Iraq.
Mr. Duterte has also ordered lawmakers and government officials to hold a special session of Congress to discuss how to address the safety of Filipinos in the Middle East, a region which holds more than half of the total OFW population in the world with 1.2 million workers deployed. Around 1,184 Filipinos reside in Iran while 2,191 are in Iraq. — Arjay L. Balinbin and Gillian M. Cortez