MANILA (UPDATE)—The Philippine military will send most of its "biggest aircraft and ships," and close to 1,000 soldiers to the Middle East in response to President Rodrigo Duterte's order to repatriate Filipinos in the region who may be affected by the ongoing US-Iran conflict.
“We are still in the planning stage, we are still preparing troops,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters Wednesday.
“Si [Foreign Affairs] Secretary [Teodoro] Locsin naman ay nakikipag-negotiate, nakikipag-ugnayan sa mga ibang bansa doon kung ano pang kailangang mga papeles para pumasok 'yong mga tao natin and other logistics, kasi magpapadala tayo ng mga barko at eroplano. Saan sila lalanding, saan sila magda-dock, refuelling, supplies.”
Lorenzana identified the naval assets to be deployed as the BRP Tarlac and BRP Davao Del Sur, which are both landing dock ships.
Navy chief Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad said more than 500 people could fit in a landing dock ship.
“Ang landing dock can accommodate 750 people, kasama na crew,” he said. “We can fit in 600 to 700 kung ire-repatriate [ang mga Pilipino].”
Empedrad said the Navy may even deploy a Del Pilar-class vessel and a landing tank as escort ships.
“We are ready to deploy within 72 hours,” he said, adding it would take around 3 weeks to sail from the Philippines to the Middle East.
“The longest is 22 days, kung ayon sa dagat. Kung mabilis, 18 days.”
Air assets to be deployed are 2 C-150 transport planes and one smaller C-295 aircraft, Lorenzana said.
The Philippine military will also deploy a Marine battalion and an Army battalion to help with the repatriation.
"Hindi sila magpunta do'n para makipaglaban," he said of the deployment.
Lorenzana said they would take steps not to be mistaken as combatants, or find themselves in the precarious position of having to use force to defend themselves.
“We will be very careful on that. Baka mamaya, maipit tayo sa putukan diyan,” he said, adding they would only escort Filipinos on land if needed. "Otherwise, they will stay in the ship.”
Manila still needs to get diplomatic clearance and is ironing out rules of engagement with Baghdad to ensure that Philippine troops will not be attacked, said Lorenzana.
Iraq hosts some 1,600 Filipinos, according to the defense chief.
“Lahat ng mga Pilipinong gustong umuwi ay iuuwi natin, especially kung nanganganib ang kanilang kaligtasan,” he said.
READY TO REPATRIATE
In an advisory published Wednesday, the Philippine Embassy in UAE said the Philippine government was prepared to repatriate Filipinos who may be affected by the ongoing conflict.
Affected Filipinos in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi requesting repatriation or any form of assistance may call +971 50 207 9988, +971 56 970 8726, +971 50 443 8003 or +971 50 207 9898.
They may also contact the embassy via email through email@example.com or through its Facebook page, Philippine Embassy in UAE.
For Filipinos in the Emirates of Dubai, Shariah, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah, they can call the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai through these numbers—+971 56 5015755, +971 56 5015756 or +971 56 4177558.
The Philippine Consulate General in Dubai can also be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and through its official Facebook page.
In response to last week's killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, Tehran on Wednesday fired "more than a dozen" ballistic missiles against 2 airbases in Iraq where US and coalition forces are based, the Pentagon said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties at the bases.
The attacks came after pro-Tehran factions in Iraq had vowed to "respond" to a US drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi military network and seen as the "godfather" of Tehran's proxy network across the region, was also killed in the US drone strike.— With a report from Agence France-Presse