Malacañang says 'standby fund' for Middle East evacuation not needed
MANILA, Philippines – As tension in the Middle East showed signs of de-escalation, Malacañang said on Tuesday, January 14, that President Rodrigo Duterte no longer requested Congress to create a "standby fund" that could be quickly tapped for large-scale evacuation from the region.
"With respect to the Middle East, because there has been a de-escalation of conflict there, I suppose that's the reason why the President did not pursue his request or call Congress to special session," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters in a press briefing in Malacañang.
What special session? In the days after the United States' targeted killing of Iranian commander Major General Qasem Soleimani, tension between the US and Iran reached a tipping point. World leaders expressed concern over the possibility a deadly conflict breaking out in the region.
Duterte's first comments on the issue were ordering lawmakers to convene for a special session and create a "standby fund" for Filipinos' mass evacuation from the region.
He gave the directive in a speech after the ceremonial signing of the P4.1-trillion 2020 budget last January 6, saying that he estimated the government would need "billions" to mobilize troops and officials if evacuation would be needed.
Panelo's latest remarks indicated plans for the billion-peso fund would no longer push through with no update from the President. The Department of Budget and Management had also assured the public that the Philippine government could readily access a total of P1.82 billion for Filipino workers' repatriation, with or without the President's pronouncement.
What's happening to Filipinos in the Middle East? Despite this, Panelo said plans to evacuate Filipinos from Iraq – ground zero of the conflict between the US and Iran - and other countries in the Middle East were still in place.
On Tuesday, Duterte was scheduled to lead the send-off of the Philippine Navy's BRP Davao del Sur and Ramon Alcaraz to the region. Panelo described this as a precautionary measure as the situation in the region remained volatile.
"We don't know exactly whether it will again escalate or deescalate. So to be certain our people there will be safe and secure, we will be sending this ship," Panelo said.
Apart from this, several Philippine officials were likewise in the Middle East to assist and facilitate repatriation efforts. The first batch of Filipinos evacuating from Iraq were flown to Qatar Monday, Januaary 13, and were scheduled to arrive in the Philippines on Tuesday. – Rappler.com