President Rodrigo Duterte led the send-off of around 1,000 troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to assist in the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East.
Duterte arrived at the Port Area in Manila just a few minutes before 5 p.m. to send off two ships to the Middle East–the BRP Davao Del Sur and BRP Ramon Alcaraz.
The two ships will lead the government’s efforts in repatriating distressed Filipino workers affected by the ongoing conflict between the US and Iran.
In his speech, Duterte expressed confidence that the troops would lead Filipino workers safely home.
“I trust that you’ll exert all efforts and work hand in hand with the secretary of the Department of National Defense to encourage affected Filipinos in the Middle East to return to the Philippines to be evacuated to safer grounds,” Duterte said.
He also assured them that the government would continue implementing programs that will enhance the Philippine Navy’s capacity.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Lorenzana said contingency plans on the repatriation of Filipino workers remain in place as the situation in the Middle East is still “unstable.”
“The situation in the area is still unstable and our contingencies for massive repatriation are still in place,” Lorenzana said in a statement.
Currently, Environment Secretary and Special Envoy to the Middle East, Roy Cimatu, is in Qatar implementing the repatriation on the ground and constantly assessing the situation in Iran, Iraq, Libya, and other neighboring states.
The first batch of evacuees, numbering 14, is now at the Philippine embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.
Lorenzana was earlier named chairperson of the special working panel that will oversee the evacuation and possible repatriation of OFWs in the Middle East amid tensions between the United States and Iran.
The vice chair is National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. Its members are Cimatu, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade.
The government has also prepared a total of PHP1.8 billion for the repatriation of Filipinos in the Middle East.
There are an estimated 4,000 Filipinos in Iraq, according to data from the Department of Foreign Affairs. (PNA)