MANILA (2nd UPDATE)—Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Friday dared protesters outside his agency's office to punch him, later promising them that the government would help distressed Filipino workers in the Middle East.
Locsin arrived at his office while militant groups Migrante, Courage and Bayan Muna were holding a rally to condemn the deployment of Filipino troops to Iraq, saying this might endanger Filipino workers there if tensions between Iran and the United States escalate.
The official attempted to take the microphone from a militant leader so he could speak, but the latter refused to give it. Locsin then went inside his agency's office, only to return outside, dare the militants to maul him and instruct his bodyguards to stay back.
"Try, sige bugbugin mo ako (beat me)," Locsin can be heard saying in an ABS-CBN video while protesters chanted "Makibaka, huwag matakot (struggle on, don't be afraid)."
Locsin later grabbed an ABS-CBN News microphone and told the protesters that the government would repatriate and shoulder the exit visa of all Filipino workers from the Middle East who wanted to go home.
"Kahit na parang wala nang giyera... there will be a massive repatriation effort to bring our people back home, iyong gustong pumunta rito," he said.
(Even if it appears that there is no war, there will be a massive repatriation effort to bring our people back home, those who want to go here.)
Philippine authorities, he said, would also stay in conflict areas to protect Filipinos who refuse to go home.
Locsin added that he would seek justice for a Filipina maid in Kuwait who was allegedly killed by her employers, which prompted the government to suspend the deployment of household workers to the oil-rich state recently.
"Iyong pinatay sa Kuwait, sinabi ko na a life for a life -- no other compromise. Ayaw ko iyong ransom," said Locsin.
(In the case of the Filipina killed in Kuwait, life for a life -- no other compromise. I don't want a ransom.)
The Cabinet Secretary also said he would help protester Regina Garde, who said her sister, a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia was barred from going home by her employers even after her contract lapsed.
In a tweet late Friday night, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Dodo Dulay said Garde's sister has been rescued by authorities from her employers.
"She is now in our shelter safe and sound. Her employer will issue her exit visa and pay her salaries due. We are now booking her flight home," he wrote.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez said protesters seemed to be at the "wrong address,” judging by the signs and hashtags they used.
The protesters were seen carrying signs rejecting war in Iran, and condemning US aggression.
“My opinion from the footage (I was out of the DFA) it appears that after the refusal by the protesters to share the microphone, SFA Locsin returned to engage on the issues. Seems to me from the signs and hashtags they were at the wrong address on Roxas Boulevard,” Meñez told reporters in a text message when asked for a reaction to the incident.
The DFA is along Roxas Boulevard, where the US Embassy is also located.—With reports from Willard Cheng, George Calvelo, Fred Cipres and Zen Hernandez, ABS-CBN News