The government’s emergency repatriation fund lodged in the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) amounting to P65 million should be tapped to finance the mandatory evacuation of Filipino workers and migrants in the Middle East as tensions heighten between Iran and the United States, Senator Joel Villanueva said.
Villanueva, chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development, said the fund, which was included in the 2020 General Appropriations Act that President Rodrigo Duterte had signed recently, would be enough to jumpstart the government’s order to Filipino workers to leave Iraq.
“We ask our countrymen to heed the call to return to the country immediately.”
“The safety and security of our Filipino compatriots are the top priority of our government. Now that our diplomats and security officials have determined the imminent danger in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, we ask our countrymen to heed the call to return to the country immediately,” the veteran legislator.
The seasoned lawmaker urged overseas Filipino workers to ensure their important documents such as passports and travel documents, and employment contracts, among others, are secured so that these could readily be gathered if the need to evacuate the region pushes through.
“Isa lang po ang pakiusap natin sa ating mga kababayan sa Middle East. Hiling natin na tumalima sila sa panawagan ng ating pamahalaan sakaling ideklarang hindi na ligtas ang rehiyon para sa mga manggagawa. Kaligtasan at seguridad po ninyo ang pinakamahalaga sa atin, at ayaw po nating mag-alala ang inyong mga pamilya dito sa Pilipinas,” the senator implored.
“Scrutinize the information being passed around, especially on social media.”
“Huwag po tayo umasa sa mga haka-haka o sabi-sabi ‘pag dating sa isyu ng seguridad,” he added, as he urged Filipinos to validate the information being passed around, especially on social media.
Villanueva added that he was keen to call for a public inquiry to ascertain the government’s capacity and preparedness to mobilize thousands of Filipinos in the Middle East.
“We expect our government agencies, mainly the Departments of Labor and Employment, and Foreign Affairs, to present to the Senate Labor committee how they intend to gather our OFWs working in the Middle East and repatriate them should the region become unstable as a result of political developments there,” he said.
Villanueva said he would be filing a resolution on the matter for the Senate to tackle when session resumes.
About 2.17 million Filipinos, both OFWs and migrants, are in the Middle East as of June 2019, according to data from the Department of Labor and Employment.