By Martin Sadongdong
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) stands ready for the possible evacuation of Filipino workers in the Middle East in the light of the escalating tension between the United States and Iran over the former’s recent killing of the latter’s top general.
This was the assurance given by AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, who said the military was tasked by President Rodrigo Duterte to be ready in case conflict arises in the Middle East following the death of General Qasem Soleimani.
“That is an important and crucial task for the AFP,” Arevalo said, referring to the possible evacuation of Filipinos from the Middle East.
“Notwithstanding the challenges we face to carry that out, we are prepared to embark on the mission not only because it’s our mandate, but it is also in pursuit of the Commander-in-Chief’s directive,” he added.
Arevalo said rescue efforts for the Filipinos who might be affected by the conflict in the region “is more than a transport sortie.”
“It is a humanitarian mission dedicated to take from harm’s way our fellow Filipinos and bring them to safety,” he said.
Earlier, AFP chief Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. said the military has placed on standby status all available air and naval assets, including C-130 transport planes and frigates.
However, two of the country’s frigates, the BRP Jose Rizal and BRP Antonio Luna, are still being manufactured and tested in South Korea, and will be delivered to the Philippines in April or May 2020.
Philippine Air Force commanding general Lt. Gen. Rozzano Briguez has yet to respond to this reporter’s query as to how many C-130s are available for deployment.
According to the PAF website, it has a current fleet of five C-130 aircrafts as of 2018, composed of two C-130T, two C-130H, and one C-130B. Each aircraft has a capacity of up to 92 passengers.
Santos nonetheless said that the AFP has been finalizing all the nitty-gritty of the possible evacuation plan, including the routes to be taken, not only in Iran but also in Iraq and other neighboring countries in the Middle East.
There are about 1.2 million Filipino workers in the Middle East, with about 1,600 of them in Iran and 6,000 in Iraq.
Tension flared between the U.S. and Iran when Soleimani, commander of the elite Iranian military Quds Force, was killed in a drone strike at the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq last Jan. 3 upon the orders of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Soleimani was believed to be the brains behind the killing of thousands of Americans as Iran tries to expand its influence over the Middle East.
Iran vowed to avenge Soleimani’s killing even as Trump warned them of more vicious attacks if they target any American asset.