Duterte asks Congress to discuss US-Iran tensions
MANILA - A fearful President Rodrigo Duterte called Monday for supplementary funding and measures to secure the lives of Filipinos in the Middle East in light of escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.
Duterte called on Congress and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III to prepare funds for the possible repatriation of Filipinos as the chief executive noted that it would take a "huge, gargantuan" effort to secure their safety.
"I am afraid for the so many lives of our countrymen in jeopardy," the President said in a speech in Malacañang following the signing of the 2020 national budget.
"Kinakabahan ako (I am nervous). Iran seems to be hell-bent on a retaliation, which I think will come. It's a matter of time."
"I do not have anything, nary a worry, were it not for a fact that there are a lot of Filipinos there... We need the money. I need it before it actually starts," he added.
The Middle East is the top regional destination for overseas Filipino workers with over 1.2 million working in the region, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.
Tensions between the US and Iran escalated after a US drone strike killed military commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Friday.
The attack took long-running hostilities between Washington and Tehran into uncharted territory and raised the specter of wider conflict in the Middle East.
"We do not know what will be the end result of this crisis. It could lead to a war, it could be a widescale strife. Whatever it is, we Filipinos are really in great peril," Duterte said.
The Philippine leader appealed to Congress to set aside at least a day or two to discuss the effects of the escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington, which he labeled an "evolving crisis."
'THERE WILL BE SOME RISK'
On Sunday, Iran condemned US President Donald Trump as a "terrorist in a suit" after Washington's leader threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites hard if Tehran attacks Americans or US assets in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani.
Duterte on the same day met with the country's top security officials and asked the military to prepare aircraft and ships for the possible repatriation of Filipinos in the Middle East.
Newly-installed Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Lt. Gen. Filemon Santos Jr. assured the public Monday that the military is prepared to execute the President's orders.
"As directed by the President, we are prepared with all our air and naval assets in the event the situation worsens," Santos Jr. told ANC.
"There will be some risk...It will take coordination with other countries but we are trying our best so that when an emergency erupts we could go there as soon as possible," he said.
There are 1,600 Filipinos in Iran, and 6,000 in Iraq who might get caught in the crossfire should tensions between Washington and Tehran escalate.