President Rodrigo Duterte admitted on Tuesday that his administration is bracing for the possibility that the current stand-off between the United States (US) and Iran could turn into a “worst-case” scenario for the Filipinos working in the Gulf states.
In a media interview, President said one of the solutions that would help address the plight of Filipino workers in the Middle East is the impending negotiations of Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) Abdullah Mamao with the Iranian and Iraqi governments.
“I have sent Secretary Mamao. He’s a Maranao. He’s a Cabinet member. He’s my fraternity brother. I trust him. I’ve sent him to both Iran and in Baghdad if he can make it to talk to the leaders about the plight of the Filipino workers,” Duterte said on the sidelines of an event at the Palace.
“The order is just to get the assurance that my countrymen will have the egress, just in case hell breaks loose in the Middle East,” he added.
Mamao and Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu were scheduled to fly to the Middle East on Tuesday to hold a meeting with officials in the Gulf states.
Mamao was tasked to deliver Duterte’s “special messages” to the Iranian and Iraqi governments which convey his desire that “no Filipinos be harmed in the course of ongoing conflicts”.
Cimatu, meantime, was ordered to establish coordination with the two Arab countries and lay the groundwork for the repatriation of OFWs.
The President’s latest remarks came hours after Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace press briefing that the President is ready to take side with the United States, in case Iran “intentionally” harms OFWs in the Arab nation.
Iran’s top military commander, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq last week, a move that prompted Iran to pledge retaliation against Washington.
Panelo said Duterte issued a “friendly caution” that the US will get the Philippines’ support, if Iran deliberately attacks Filipinos in the Middle East, which is home to 1.2 million OFWs. Duterte said the idea of siding with Washington is a mere “projection”.
“I would not like it. That’s just a projection,” he said when asked to confirm his spokesman’s pronouncement that he would side with the US rather than Iran.
The Philippines and the US’ diplomatic relations began in July 1946. Five years after, or in August 1951, the two countries signed a Mutual Defense Treaty that aims to boost their security partnership.
Duterte, however, made it clear that it was “out of the question” for him to order the Philippine troops to help the US forces in its battle against Iran.
He added that he would not let the US use the Philippines as a “launching pad”.
“(It’s) out of the question, unless the national interest would demand it and it will be decided not by me, but me and Congress,” he said, when quizzed about the Philippines’ possible assistance to the US.
“The Visiting Forces Agreement, we will continue to respect it in transit. But to use the Philippines as a launching pad or to fly the missiles or the rockets, I have to stop it,” the President added.
Duterte, nevertheless, said he and the country’s security officials are drafting “Plan A” and “Plan B” that are both aimed at ensuring the safety and security of OFWs in the Middle East.
He, however, refused to spill further details about his government’s plans.
“We’re just reviewing it. So there’s plan A, plan B, and the worst-scenario case, puputok talaga (it will begin) if they begin using high explosives,” he said.
“Kung may masaktan (If any of the Filipinos will get hurt), then we’ll just have to move physically not only verbal. What it would consist of, I cannot, as of now, tell you,” Duterte added.
For now, Duterte said he has already asked the Department of Defense to study on how the OFWs “would make their way out” of the Arab countries.
He said he has also instructed the Department of Finance to reserve a certain amount for that possible exigency of Filipino migrant workers in the Middle East.
“I hope that they would do everything to assure the safety that no Filipino gets hurt because kung sabi mo may masaktan o may casualty (if some would get injured or killed), then I would not like it,” Duterte said. PNA.GOV.PH