• Palace doubts Ople’s OFW report

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    Malacañang on Saturday said the Philippine government is verifying reports that thousands of Filipinos in a city on the border of Saudi Arabia and war-torn Yemen are in danger following the bombing of the area a few days ago by Yemeni rebels.

    Presidential Communications Undersecretary Manuel Quezon 3rd made the statement in reaction to reports that some 5,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Najran are now seeking government assistance for repatriation after a Philippine community office near the southern border of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was hit by rebel bombs on January 5.

    Since last year, the area has been vulnerable to attacks by Yemeni rebels after the Saudi forces started aiding the Yemeni government in trying to regain control of the country as it descends into a civil war.

    Susan Ople, president of the Blas Ople Policy Center, on Friday told reporters in a media briefing that at least four OFWs have sought embassy assistance to leave Najran.

    “The Center referred their appeals for help to the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) for appropriate action. According to a worker, their employer has agreed to let them go provided that he is paid back all the recruitment costs,” Ople said.

    Quezon doubts Ople’s report, however, saying that Malacañang is consulting with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) “to get an independent verification published.”

    “As you would know from a journalistic—even in journalistic practice, we would need more than one source,” Quezon told the government-run dzRB radio station in a Saturday broadcast.

    “So, of course, this is a matter of highest concern if true, and therefore, we should expect a response from the Department of Foreign Affairs within a couple of days,” he added.
    Ople also said her group has received reports that some other OFWs in Najran are now seeking relocation to other areas in Saudi Arabia that remain peaceful.

    Quoting information sourced to some workers from Najran, Ople has said about 5,000 Filipinos in the city in Southwestern Saudi Arabia near the border of Yemen have become vulnerable to the daily bombings which have increased from 15 to 80, including those carried out at nights as the Saudi Army and Yemeni rebels intensify their attacks.

    She then urged the Philippine government to ban new hires from heading to Najran due to the city’s deteriorating security situation.

    “We call on the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to work jointly and fast in declaring Najran a no-deployment zone, given the ongoing hostilities in the area,” Ople said. The former labor undersecretary is running for a Senate seat in the 2016 Philippine elections.

    She also asked the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment to provide assistance to four OFWs who are based in Najran and now seeking repatriation.

    Ople said their employer has agreed to let them go home to the Philippines on the condition that they reimburse the company $1,500 (P70,668) each to cover the cost of their recruitment.

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