The government has more than P10 billion to fund the emergency repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Taiwan, Senator Jinggoy Estrada said Monday amid Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian's remarks on the fate of over 200,000 migrant workers in the East Asian country.
“Two-thirds of this year’s budget of the newly-established Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) or P10.6 billion had been earmarked for the Emergency Repatriation Program of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA),” Estrada said in a statement.
“This is more than enough to cover the repatriation of an estimated 200,000 OFWs currently in Taiwan, if the government is forced to have their safe return home,” he added.
While the Chinese embassy clarified that Huang’s statement was “misquoted, misunderstood, or taken out of context,” Estrada said that concerned agencies should put in place strategic plans in case of any eventuality.
“Wala akong nakikitang masama kung mapaghandaan natin ang mga hindi kanais-nais na pangyayari at habang patuloy tayong umaasa na mananaig ang diplomasya at diyalogo sa pagitan ng Taiwan at China. We must, however, exhaust all means to ensure that our OFWs are safe,” he said.
(I see nothing wrong if we prepare for anything unpleasant. And while we hope for continued diplomacy and dialog between Taiwan and China, we must, however, exhaust all means to ensure that our OFWs are safe.)
His position was echoed by Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Senator Francis Tolentino, and Senator Francis Escudero.
For his part, Tolentino, vice chairperson of the Senate foreign relations committee, proposed that the simulation of the evacuation of more than 150,000 OFWs in Taiwan should be part of the country’s Balikatan Exercises.
“I advise the head of the Balikatan Gaming Exercise—Philippine side—isama na rin sa practice next year kung paano tayo mag e-evacuate using ships/sasakyang pandagat galing Taiwan papunta ng Cagayan or Batanes in case—for contingency,” Tolentino said.
The lawmaker said sea evacuation is the most feasible type of evacuation plan to quickly repatriate OFWs working in Taiwan, suggesting the participation of commercial vessels in the evacuation simulation should a full-scale conflict between Beijing and Taipei escalate.
“Kasi hindi naman pwedeng C-130 (plane)—papaano mo isasakay sa C-130 ang 150,000? So iku-kumander mo ang mga private ship—i-practice/ire-rehearse,” the senator said.
Amid Huang’s remarks, Tolentino pointed out that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) or the Balikatan Exercises were “not designed for any skirmishes in the Taiwan Strait” but rather for the protection of the Republic of the Philippines.
He also reminded the Chinese envoy “to exercise prudence in the manner he speaks” to further improve the current relations between Manila and Beijing.
Huang on Friday said China has “advised” the Philippines to oppose Taiwan’s independence instead of offering the US access to its military facilities near the Taiwan strait if the administration cared for the 150,000 OFWs in Taiwan.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday assured the safety of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Taiwan, saying there has been a contingency plan in place should a conflict arise there.
Signed in 2014, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and US grants American troops access to designated Philippine military facilities and allows them to build facilities, and preposition equipment, aircraft, and vessels. Permanent basing, however, is prohibited.
The five existing EDCA locations are Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu, and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.
Three of the four new EDCA sites are in the northern portion of Luzon, closer to Taiwan. These are the Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Isabela, the Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan, and the Camilo Osias Naval Base, also in Cagayan.
The fourth EDCA site has been designated on Balabac island in Palawan, near the disputed South China Sea.
The Department of National Defense, for its part, “took exception” to the envoy’s claim that the Philippines was “stoking the fire” with EDCA, while National Security Council spokesperson Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya clarified that “the Philippines has no intention of interfering in the Taiwan issue and will not allow itself to be used by other countries to interfere in the said issue.” — DVM, GMA Integrated News