By Genalyn Kabiling
President Rodrigo Duterte is inclined to take the side of the United States if any Filipino gets hurt in its escalating tension with Iran, Malacañang declared Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President would not stay neutral and sit idly by if Filipinos are put in harm’s way in Iran’s conflict with the United States.
“Hindi tayo magiging neutral (We will not stay neutral). The President was very specific in saying last (Monday) night that if the Filipinos are harmed, he will side with the Americans,” Panelo said in a press conference at the Palace.
“That is precisely why he specifically instructed [Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Affairs] Secretary (Abdullah) Mamao to go to Iran and Iraq and deliver a special message to the Iraqi and Iranian governments of his urgent desire or wish that no Filipinos be harmed in the course of the conflict. If they will harm the Filipinos then, the President will not sit down idly and watch,” he added.
Asked if the government will send Filipino troops as part of the mutual defense treaty with the US, Panelo said the matter was not discussed during the Cabinet meeting although it might have been tackled in the President’s separate meeting with security officials.
“Depende (It depends) if the provisions of the agreement will be observed. But then necessarily, it will be operational,” he said when asked about the deployment of Filipino soldiers to aid the United States as part of the defense pact.
Panelo admitted that the President has expressed concern about the safety of Filipinos in the Middle East, considering the Philippines is a known ally of the United States. He acknowledged that the “enemy” might also attack American allies like the Philippines in the escalating conflict in the region.
“Ang sinasabi ni President, huwag ninyo idamay ang mga Pilipino sa away ninyo sa Amerika kasi hindi ba (The President says they should not drag the Filipinos into their conflict with the United States because) we’re supposed to be allies of the Americans and enemies might also attack not only the Americans but also the allies of the Americans,” he said.
“Kung papatayin ang Filipinos, gusto mong sabihin, hindi na tayo iimik? Eh ang kalaban nila Amerikano. Kaya nila gagawin ‘yun, dahil kakampi tayo ng Amerikano (If they kill Filipinos, do you want us to stay silent? They are fighting with the Americans. They can do it to us because we are allied with the Americans).”
The President earlier created a Cabinet-level committee to craft an evacuation plan for Filipinos in the Middle East in case of military warfare between the United States and Iran.
He also dispatched two emissaries to the Middle East to ensure the safety of the Filipinos in the region and prepare for a possible repatriation of Filipinos. Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu will coordinate with Middle Eastern countries hosting Filipinos and lay the groundwork for the evacuation, while Mamao will visit Iran and Iraq to deliver the President’s message on the safety of the Filipinos.
The tension between the US and Iran recently escalated after US President Donald Trump ordered a strike that killed Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq.
Panelo, however, said it would be a different matter if a Filipino is hurt in the event of a US-led airstrike in the tension with Iran. “Iba naman ‘yun. Eh kung aksidente (That’s different. What if it is an accident),” he said.
Asked about the President’s view on the killing of Soleimani, Panelo declined to make a stand on the issue. “That’s a fight between Americans and Iranians. Foremost in his mind is the safety of our kababayans there,” he said.