By Genalyn Kabiling
President Rodrigo Duterte is counting on the military to ensure the swift and orderly evacuation of Filipinos affected by the tension in the Middle East.
The President, concerned about the safety of Filipinos in the region, said he has designated Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to supervise the evacuation of countrymen from Iraq.
Lorenzana and Cimatu are former military officials. Lorenzana currently heads the Cabinet-level committee supervising the repatriation efforts while Cimatu has been dispatched to the Middle East to coordinate the evacuation plan.
“In the first place, in times of crisis, you get to have a more faster reaction if you request the military to do it,” the President said in an interview over TV Patrol Friday night.
Duterte said he asked Lorenzana to use the government assets needed for the evacuation of Filipinos out of conflict areas in the Middle East.
“I requested Secretary Lorenzana to take stock of what we have, what are the equipment that can be sent immediately, ships and airplanes and of course provisioning, the evacuees if needed to be quartered in a certain place outside harm’s way and that would be Iraq and Iran,” he said.
Cimatu, on the other hand, has traveled to the Middle East to start moving Filipinos from Iraq to a safe place, according to the President.
“I sent actually General Cimatu, secretary of DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources). He used to be the special emissary of President [Gloria] Arroyo and he has had a vast experience on how to handle situations. He is there already. He has been communicating with us,” he added.
Duterte gave the assurance that the government has sufficient funds for the repatriation of Filipinos, particularly their airfare back home.
He said evacuation has been ordered “in those places where there is really a great danger to the Filipinos.”
“The latest advice I was given on Iraq, it is a forced evacuation,” he said. “For those who are married already, whose husbands are Iraqi nationals, we cannot do anything,” he added.
Duterte earlier pushed for the establishment of a standby fund to bankroll the repatriation of Filipinos in case the tension between the United States and Iran escalates. He also suggested that Congress convene a special session to tackle the latest problems in the Middle East.