Labor group says gov’t should start evacuating Filipinos in Middle East

Published January 5, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Leslie Ann Aquino

With millions of Filipinos working and living in the Middle East, labor group Federation of Free Workers (FFW) believes the government should start evacuating them now.

HOME-BOUND – The first batch of the largest group of repatriated Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) – 580 of them – arrive from Kuwait at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 yesterday. The Department of Foreign Affairs considers this as one of the largest repatriations it has carried out in a single day since it began more than a week ago. (Jansen Romero)

FFW particularly cited the household service workers (HSWs), the highly-skilled Filipino professionals working in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon who will experience the brunt of war that could suddenly break out in the region.

“The HSWs are the most vulnerable among the OFWs. We heard from previous crises in the Middle East where employers evacuated their homes but left the domestic workers under their employ behind,” said Atty. Sonny Matula, FFW president, in a statement.

“In all, we are talking of about up to 3 million Filipinos in the Middle East. Both DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) have plans for such an eventuality that we are not fully aware of. Offhand, there is not enough airplanes or ships to evacuate 3 million OFWs if war suddenly breaks out,” he added.

Matula said Philippine embassies and diplomatic missions must now issue an urgent dispatch to all Filipinos in Iran, Iraq and other hotspots to immediately leave the host country.

“Filipinos within the Gulf region have to be notified by the embassies and consulates on their plans on how to evacuate them, including the identification of the designated areas where our naval and air assets could possibly pick them up in case of further escalation leading to a full blown war,” he said.

“Our government must now lay out its contingency plans including arrangements with other foreign governments on their respective repatriation plans and the private sector. We need their cooperation and assistance due to our limited resources,” added Matula.

He said employers of OFWs in the Middle East should also be briefed about the repatriation plan of the Philippine government.

“Our Embassy officials, with the help of trade unions and even private recruitment placement agencies and local and international networks of CSOs of migrant workers, should negotiate for the full compensation of our workers in the event of repatriation; and their prioritization for hiring or rehiring should the political conditions in the Middle East stabilize,” Matula said.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) and even the Social Security System (SSS) and other social protection agencies, he said should convene through the DOLE and work overtime to provide the needed services for the OFWs who might be displaced—including psycho-social counseling, local and international placement, skills training and entrepreneurship training, among others.

Matula added: President Rodrigo Duterte should release additional funds from the Presidential Social Fund, if needed.

Those repatriated HSWs, he said can be retrained as paramedical personnel to prepare them to seize opportunities created by an eventual asymmetric warfare in the ME but under conditions of government-to-government bilateral labor agreements.

“They can also be redeployed as caregivers, para medical workers or teachers in migrant-hosting countries or developed countries with aging population on a G2G Basis,” said Matula.

“If war breaks out in the ME, this is an opportunity the DOLE may take advantage of. In extreme cases where the safety of our workers can be ensured, we can send appropriate non-combatant and non-frontline workers during the war. Filipino workers could also be brought in during the period of reconstruction from the ravages brought about by war,” he added.

The FFW head urged the government to continue meaningful consultations and social dialogue with tripartite partners in preparation of OFW displacement, possible draining of foreign remittances, lack of jobs, high oil prices, and worst of them all, a full blown war not only in the Middle East, but World War III.

The Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), meantime, has called for the suspension of the third tranche of excise taxes on petroleum and petroleum products and the entire fuel tax package under the TRAIN Law and the value added tax on fuel to cushion the imminent impacts of a rise in inflation as the US-Iran conflict heats up.

The group in a statement said that Malacanang should protect the consumers and overseas workers  “by acting quickly and decisively” to shield them from inevitable price hikes on basic goods, a likely outcome triggered by a spike on the price of international oils from the Middle East.

“The president should quit dilly-dallying and immediately issue an executive order that will suspend the collection of excise and value added taxes on oil to avert inflationary impacts on commodities. He must have the foresight and diligence to act swiftly on behalf of our struggling countrymen”, said Leody de Guzman, chairperson of BMP.