MANILA- The Philippines is preparing aircraft and ships for the possible repatriation of Filipinos in the Middle East in light of rising tensions between Iran and the United States, Malacañang said Monday.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday ordered the military to be on alert in the event that hostilities between Tehran and Washington further escalate, his spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters Monday.
"Kung nanganganib ang kanilang buhay, siyempre gagawin ng pamahalaan ang lahat upang mailigtas sila sa kapahamakan," Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo said of the government's plan.
(If their lives are in danger, then the government would do everything to protect them from harm.)
There are 1,600 Filipinos in Iran, and 6,000 in Iraq who might get caught in the crossfire should tensions escalate.
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.
Iran condemned Donald Trump on Sunday as a "terrorist in a suit" after the US president threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites hard if Tehran attacks Americans or US assets in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani.
Several governments have urged both countries to seek to de-escalate the tensions.
While the Philippines is preparing to repatriate its people in the Middle East, Panelo clarified that the Duterte administration has yet to decide on whether it would implement a forced evacuation policy.
"Yung nanganganib ang kanilang buhay at 'yung gusto [ililikas], di mo rin kasi mapipilit kung ayaw sumama sa iyo. May mga Pilipino na kahit na may giyera ayaw nila umalis doon," he said.
(Those who are in harm's way and those who want to go home will be repatriated. We can't force everyone. There are Filipinos who don't want to leave the country even in times of war.)
MILITARY PREPARED FOR REPATRIATION
Newly-installed Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Lt. Gen. Filemon Santos Jr. meanwhile assured the public Monday that the military is prepared to execute Duterte's orders.
"As directed by the President, we are prepared with all our air and naval assets in the event the situation worsens," he told ANC on Monday.
The military, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, is coordinating with its Middle East counterparts for the passage of its vessels and aircraft for the possible evacuation, Santos said.
"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.
"As of now, we are trying our best [to prepare for] the worst situation. As of now, as directed by the president, we are prepared to utilize our available assets and we are already prepared," he added. -with a report from Reuters