MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte will side with the United States in the event Filipinos are harmed in the Middle East, his spokesman Salvador Panelo said Tuesday as the Philippines braces to evacuate its people in the region.
Duterte “will not sit down idly” if Filipinos are harmed, and is simply issuing a “friendly caution” to Iran, which he earlier said is “hell-bent” on seeking revenge against the US, Panelo said.
“The President was very specific in saying last night that if the Filipinos are harmed, he will side with the Americans,” Panelo said.
“He (Duterte) is expressing his concern for the safety of his countrymen…Kumbaga sinasabi niya ‘uy, hindi kami kasali diyan ah’,” he added.
(It’s like he’s saying that we are excluded from that problem.)
Since its independence, the Philippines has traditionally been an ally of the US.
Washington and Manila are bound by a half century-old Mutual Defense Treaty and military forces from the 2 countries engage in regular war games that see thousands of US troops and American military hardware brought to Manila.
Duterte, who had expressed fears over the brewing crisis in the Middle East, asked 2 of his top officials on Monday night to fly to the region to secure the safety of Filipinos there.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, a former military chief who in 2004 secured the release of a Filipino hostage in Iraq, was tasked to fly immediately to the Middle East where he previously served as envoy to lay the “groundwork” for the possible evacuation of Filipinos.
The President’s adviser on overseas Filipino workers Abdullah Mamao was meanwhile ordered to fly to Iran and Iraq on Tuesday to deliver Duterte’s appeal that "no Filipinos be harmed in the course of the ongoing conflicts," Panelo said.
There are some 1,600 and 6,000 Filipinos in Iran and Iraq, respectively, and at least 4 million migrant workers in the Middle East, according to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.