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Filipino workers in Baghdad told to go on leave

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THE Philippine Embassy in Iraq advised Filipino workers there to go on leave after a US strike killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad’s international airport.

Filipino workers on vacation should ask for an extension from their Iraqi employers amid tensions, the embassy said.

“Don’t hesitate to ask for an extension of your leave until the situation eases,” Charge d’Affaires Jomar T. Sadie said in Filipino at a briefing streamed over the embassy’s Facebook page on Sunday.

“If you are here in Iraq and have similar worries, don’t hesitate to ask for a leave of absence so you can go home to the Philippines,” he added.

Mr. Sadie reminded Filipino workers overseas that under their contracts, help in times of danger is guaranteed by their employers.

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Meanwhile, undocumented Filipino migrants should reach the embassy for assistance.

Top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US strike at Baghdad’s international airport on Friday.

The Pentagon said Mr. Trump had ordered the killing after a pro-Iran mob laid siege on the US embassy.

Mr. Trump on Saturday threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites “very hard” if Iran attacks Americans or US assets in retaliation.

There are 1,190 documented Filipinos in Iraq and 450 undocumented ones, according to the Foreign Affairs department.

The agency also said the crisis alert level for all areas in Iraq had been raised to 3 or voluntary repatriation, except for the Iraqi Kurdistan region, which is still under Alert Level 1 or precautionary phase.

A deployment ban of new workers and household workers to Iraq has also been put in place.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Eduardo Matin R. Menez earlier said the situation in Iraq was being closely monitored and the Philippines was prepared to send a rapid-response team if necessary. “Direct conflict in Iran itself is presently unlikely,” he said.

Philippine congressmen cited economic and security concerns as a result of the tension.

“The expected escalation of regional tensions in the Middle East could mean an overseas Filipino worker deployment ban in the region and at least two million OFWs in the Gulf countries would be put in danger,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate said in a statement on Sunday.

“For us here on the homefront, this would mean higher oil prices and that would mean higher prices of basic goods and services as well as higher poverty incidence especially with the third tranche of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law,” he added.

Mr. Zarate said the US attack “may even lead to more wars and high-level conflicts in the region and elsewhere, where the US has presence or influence, like the Philippines.”

The international community should intervene and pressure the US to avoid more attacks, Mr. Zarate said.

Party List Rep. Rowena Niña O. Taduran called on the government to come up with contingency plans should tensions in the Middle East escalate.

“We should prioritize the safety of our Overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East should there be a retaliation after the death of Iran’s commander of the elite Quds forces,” she said.

Meanwhile, labor groups called on the government to intensify protection measures for Filipino workers in the Middle East, who make up more than half of the 2.3 million overseas Filipino workers.

The Federation of Free Workers on Sunday said the government should have an evacuation plan for 1.2 million Filipinos in the Middle East.

It added that the government should prioritize household workers in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon because they are the most vulnerable in case of war. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Genshen L. Espedido

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