THE country’s special envoy to the Middle East has recommended the forced evacuation of Filipino workers in Iraq amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.
“Yes, it is really a forced evacuation,” envoy Roy A. Cimatu said at a briefing on Tuesday, referring to his recommendation at Monday night’s Cabinet meeting.
He said he planned to move Filipinos to an “Arabian area in one of the countries there.” He also wanted to first evacuate Filipinos living in the border of Libya and Tunisia in the next 24 to 48 hours.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte also created a committee to help the mission, which is expected to leave within 48 hours at the latest.
Mr. Cimatu, a former Armed Forces chief, compared the mandatory evacuation to what happened during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. He also said he had proposed to raise the alert level in Iraq from 3 or voluntary repatriation, to 4 or mandatory evacuation.
The Philippine Embassy in Iraq on Sunday advised Filipino workers there to go on leave after a US strike killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in 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.
Also on Tuesday, Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri asked Mr. Duterte to use available contingency fund of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration before asking Congress to approve a supplemental budget for the workers’ repatriation. “Those funds are readily available for these emergencies.”
Still, the Senate was ready to act on any request for a supplemental budget, Mr. Zubiri, who is also the majority leader, told reporters.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said Senate action would depend on the outcome of Tuesday evening’s command conference.
Senator Richard J. Gordon said Mr. Duterte should first consult his security advisers before calling for a special session.
The government must also come up with a concrete plan on how to appropriate the additional funds.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives was ready to hold a special session with the Senate to allocate the supplemental funds, Leyte Rep. and Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said at a separate briefing.
“We agree with the president’s pronouncement that the rising tension in the Middle East is a major concern that needs urgent legislative attention,” he said. “We are ready to clothe the Executive with all the powers needed to make sure that every Filipino is safe and secure in these trying times.”
There are 1,190 documented Filipinos in Iraq and 450 undocumented ones, according to the Foreign Affairs department.
Out of 2.3 Filipino workers overseas, 1.2 million are in the Middle East.
Congress is on recess and will resume sessions on Jan. 20. — Charmaine A. Tadalan, Vincent Mariel P. Galang and Genshen L. Espedido