Massive repatriation not necessary as US, Iran step back from war: ex-labor official

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 09 2020 09:26 AM | Updated as of Jan 09 2020 05:02 PM

MANILA - A massive repatriation of Filipino migrant workers in Iraq may not be needed as the US pulled back from the brink of war with Iran early Thursday, a former labor official said.

The Philippines, however, needs to update its contingency plans in areas of unrest in the Middle East, particularly Iraq, according to Susan Ople, a former labor undersecretary and head of non-profit overseas Filipino workers advocate group Blas F. Ople Policy Center.

"A massive repatriation may not be necessary but it’s also good for the crisis committee of the Palace, DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment), DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) to keep abreast of what’s going on," she told ANC's Early Edition.

"This can be a good opportunity... to update existing contingency plans, develop a network of influencers in the community that embassies can tap in case a crisis does erupt, and for our crisis managers to touch base with the leaders of these host government."

The Philippine Embassy in Iraq earlier raised the highest crisis alert level there, which mandates the evacuation of some 1,600 Filipinos.

The military said it would send its "biggest aircraft and ships" to help in repatriation efforts.

Sending these, however, may not be necessary as it would not be "efficient" because Iraq's airport is still functioning, according to Ople.

"Second, if it's deemed as military operation, maybe this can also put our embassy there in a dilemma of sorts. I would defer to the charge d’affaires in Baghdad on how to explain this to the host government," she said.

"But yes, we do need precision decision planning, invaluable inputs of our military in putting together contingency plans. But perhaps on the actual repatriation, we would have to rely still on our embassy personnel."

Authorities will consult Filipinos on whether they want to come home to the Philippines or evacuate in neighboring Middle East states as some might have families that they cannot uproot or jobs they wish to return to, according to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

Ople said this would be "a more convenient way" of keeping OFWs safe but it would depend on their skills and the willingness of employers to accept them.

"That may be a more attractive option for some of these workers," she said.