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Pinoy Abroad

Pinoys in several Mideast countries urged to move out, prepare for ‘worst case scenario’

Special Envoy to the Middle East and concurrent Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu on Thursday maintained that Filipinos in the neighboring countries of Iraq should be repatriated despite US President Donald Trump's claim that Iran appears to be standing down.

At a press conference held at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport before his flight to Doha, Qatar, Cimatu stressed that the turn of events is still unpredictable and time is of essence in evacuating the Filipinos in the Middle East.

"This time it's unpredictable eh. Anything can happen in the form of attack, missiles, rockets, and the problem is also the time of the attack," Cimatu said.

"We don't have to wait for these to happen, we have to start now moving them out habang medyo open pa 'yung airport, clear pa 'yung kalsada but kung nag-deteriorate na situation mas mahirap na ilabas sila," he added.

"I suggest that we have to move them out already even without any conflict pa... the worst might come, we have to move out na, we will never go wrong if we move out na."

Malacañang welcomed Trump’s assessment but said the measures to ensure the safety of overseas Filipinos would still be implemented.

“Good news for all of us. If the conflict has deescalated instead of escalating, then that’s good news for everyone especially for our overseas workers,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters.

“But nevertheless, the move to evacuate and repatriate is still going on... unless the de-escalation reaches a point where the safety of our countrymen is no longer in peril.”

On Tuesday, Iran fired "more than a dozen" ballistic missiles against two air bases in Iraq where US and coalition forces are based, according to the Pentagon. Trump, however, said that no US troops were hurt in the said attack and that Iran seems to be standing down.

The incident happened after Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed revenge for the death of top Iranian military general Qasem Soleimani due to a US airstrike in Baghdad on January 3.

Cimatu underscored that US bases in other Middle Eastern countries might be targeted. Hence, there is no place for complacency.

"One of the worst case scenarios that we have included in the plan is the possibility of targeting the US bases outside of Iraq. These bases are located in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar," he said.

Different evacuation plans must be prepared by the Philippine government for each country to address various potential problems that might be encountered, he added.

A total of 1,600 OFWs have already expressed their intention to be repatriated amid heightened security situation in the Middle East, Cimatu said.

He also appealed to the families of undocumented Filipinos in the Middle East to coordinate with the Philippine government so that they can be easily located.

Alert Level 4, requiring mandatory repatriation, has been raised by the Philippine Embassy in Iraq.

Comfortable transit points in Qatar and Dubai will be set up for OFWs evacuating from the said country, according to Cimatu.

On the other hand, Filipinos in Iran and Lebanon are no longer covered by the mandatory repatriation, according to Labor Secretary Bello, but those who wish to return to the Philippines amid the tension will still be assisted accordingly. — with Virgil Lopez/MDM/BM, GMA News