MIDDLE EAST CRISIS

Safety of Pinoy workers govt priority – Palace

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President Benigno Aquino 3rd has ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to ensure the safety of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia and Iran amid the diplomatic fallout between the two Middle East states.

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At the same time, lawmakers called on the government to prepare contingency plans for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who may have to come home if the situation worsens.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, acting head of the Senate committee on labor, employment and human resources development, called on the DFA and consulates and embassies in the Middle East to lay down measures in case tensions in the Middle escalate.

Saudi Arabia is the top destination of Filipino workers in 2015. An estimated 1.2 million Filipinos are working in that country.

Senator Francis Escudero said the Philippines should coordinate with Saudi Arabia and Iran to prevent OFWs from being caught in the crossfire.

“We should prepare contingency plans for returning OFWs or temporary sanctuary for them should the situation escalate,” Escudero said.

University of the Philippines (UP) Professor Roland Simbulan echoed the senators’ call, saying Manila should monitor the developments in the Middle East.

“We should prepare for contingencies on behalf of our OFWs so they don’t get caught in the crossfire,” Simbulan said.

Cabinet meeting
The President met with members of his Cabinet Wednesday afternoon to discuss the tension in the Middle East, where more than a million Filipinos are working.

Present during the meeting were Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Jesus Yabes, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and National Security adviser Cesar Garcia Jr.

In a statement, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said that Aquino asked the DFA to ensure that “comprehensive contingency measures” are in place should tensions escalate in the region.

“President Aquino directed the DFA to continue monitoring closely the situation in the Middle East, in view of political tensions in the region. He emphasized that government’s top priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of Filipinos,” Coloma told reporters.

“He said that comprehensive contingency measures must be put in place and implemented with maximum coordination among all concerned agencies,” Coloma added.

However, the DFA said it has no plans to raise alert levels or ban the deployment of Filipino workers to Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Relations between the two countries were strained following Riyadh’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday.

Protesters in the Shiite-majority Iran attacked Saudi’s embassy in Tehran hours after the execution, forcing Riyadh to cut ties with Iran.

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