Aquino assures OFWs in Middle East: 'We're ready to protect you'
MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III on Friday, January 8, assured Filipinos in the Middle East that the government is ready to protect them, just as it had done under far worse circumstances.
Aquino made the statement in a news briefing in Davao City, when asked about government measures for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), following fresh tensions in the Middle East caused by the row between Saudi Arabia and Iran. (READ: Saudi severs ties with Irian after embassy attack)
“Ipaalala ko lang sa inyo ‘nung kasagsagan ‘nung Arab Spring, 2011. Sa Libya meron tayong nilikas na 20,000 of the 26,000 na nandoon….Hindi ko pinapangako – nagawa na natin, kaya nating gawin kung saka-sakaling kakailanganin,” he said.
(Let me remind you that at the height of the Arab Spring in 2011. We evacuated 20,000 of the 26,000 Filipinos in Libya….I don’t just make promises; we’ve already accomplished this, so we can do it again, if necessary.)
Aquino said the situation before was more intense as there were fighting and bombings in the Libyan capital. Amid the violence that later unseated dictator Moammar Gaddhafi, the Philippines managed to hire a ship that ferried Filipinos – as well as citizens of other countries – to safer ground.
He said Philippine embassies in the Middle East have been ordered to review their contingency plans, and update and double-check contact details of Filipinos in their respective areas, so they can be easily tracked down when necessary.
On Wednesday, Aquino ordered government agencies to protect the safety of over a million Filipinos in the Middle East.
Ople: Ban OFW deployment in Najran, Saudi Arabia
Meanwhile, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) advocate Susan "Toots" Ople urged the Philippine government to ban the deployment of OFWs in Najran, Saudi Arabia, after receiving reports of escalating clashes between the military and rebel forces in the area.
In a news conference on Friday, Ople shared that OFWs in Najran, a southwestern Saudi Arabian city near the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border, reported that they could hear about 15 to 80 bomb explosions near the Filipino community in the city every day.
The Ople Center organized the press briefing following the rising tensions in the Middle East because of the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. (READ: Timeline of the latest Iran-Saudi crisis)
“The workers I have spoken to have no idea where the bombs are coming from, or are headed to. All they said was that risks are now higher because explosions can be felt and heard even at night time,” said Ople, who heads the Blas F Ople Policy Center and Training Institute.
She said there is still confusion among Najran-based OFWs as to where they should seek shelter when a bomb hits an area within the radius of where the OFWs live and work.
Ople urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to send a team to assess the security situation in Najran as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration would only order a deployment ban based on an official DFA report.
“We call on the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to work jointly and fast in declarang Najran as a no-deployment zone given the ongoing hostilities in the area,” added Ople, former labor undersecretary who is also eyeing a Senate seat in 2016.
She also asked the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment to help 4 OFWs based in Najran seeking repatriation. Ople said their employer would let them go home only after they each reimburse the company $1,500 (P70,668) in recruitment cost.
Ople clarified, however, that other cities in Saudi Arabia and Iran remain safe.
“Ang sabi nga [ng mga OFWs doon sa ibang lugar sa Saudi Arabia at Iran], sila daw minsan pa ‘yung natataranta kasi ‘yung mga pamilya nila dito ay nagtetext sa kanila at nagpi-PM sa Facebook. Pinaparating nga nila na aside from that area we mentioned, wala naman, very normal [‘yung situation],” she said.
(The OFWs in other areas in Saudi Arabia and Iran said that sometimes, they only panic because their families back home would keep on texting them and sending them personal messages on Facebook asking how they are. They tell their relatives that as we’ve mentioned, apart from Najran, the situation is very normal.)
‘Devil is in the details’
Ople welcomed the move of Aquino to order the DFA to closely monitor the situation in the Middle East. But she said the government should begin fixing its on-site services in the region should OFWs need to be evacuated or to be brought back home.
“Madali kasing sabihin na, 'We are prepared for any contingency,' pero sabi nga nila, the devil is in the details (It’s easy to say we are prepared with contingency plans but like they said, the devil is in the details),” said Ople. – Rappler.com
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