By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Joel Villanueva urged Filipinos in Iraq on Wednesday to heed the Philippine government’s order and evacuate amid rising tension in the Middle East.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) raised Alert Level 4 across all of Iraq and called for a mandatory evacuation as conflict between the United States and Iran escalated.
The Pentagon said Iran launched “more than a dozen” missiles at two Iraqi military bases occupied by US and coalition forces in retaliation for the American airstrike that killed top military commander Qasem Soleimani.
“Nakikiusap po tayo sa ating mga kababayan sa Iraq na tumalima sa panawagan ng ating pamahalaan na lumisan pansamantala doon (We are appealing to our countrymen in Iraq to heed our government’s call and leave the country temporarily),” Villanueva, who chairs the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development, said in a statement.
“Hinihiling natin na tumalima sana ang ating mga kababayan para po sa kapanatagan ng kalooban ng mga pamilya nilang naiwan dito sa ating bansa (We are asking that they comply, for the peace of mind of their families here in the Philippines),” he added.
Villanueva also asked the Philippine embassy in Iran to make sure that communication channels are available for overseas Filipino workers so they can receive immediate assistance should any problems arise during their evacuation.
He said the government should use the P65-million emergency repatriation fund in the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA)’s 2020 budget to finance the mandatory evacuation of Filipino workers and migrants in the Middle East.
“We expect that no Filipino gets left behind in the mandatory evacuation ordered by our government,” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that Congress may convene a special session as requested by President Rodrigo Duterte to augment the funds.
Sen. Ramon Revilla, meanwhile, called for prayer for the safety of Filipinos. He urged overseas Filipino workers and Filipino migrants in the Middle East to be vigilant and alert, and asked them to cooperate with authorities for their safety.