PH moves OFWs to 'safer grounds' amid tension in Ukraine

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 23 2022 03:31 PM | Updated as of Feb 23 2022 05:59 PM

Pro-Russian activists react in a street  Reuters
Pro-Russian activists react in a street as fireworks explode in the sky, after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognising two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities, in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine February 21, 2022. Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters

MANILA (UPDATE) — The Philippine government has begun moving Filipinos in Ukraine to "safe grounds," officials said Wednesday, as Russian troops were reportedly positioned near parts of Eastern Ukraine.

The Philippines is offering relocation and voluntary repatriation programs, said Hans Cacdac, administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

"Sa ngayon wala pa namang report ng naglalabanan na military forces pero ang sinasagawa ngayon ay relocation," he told state television PTV.

(As of now, there are no reports that military forces are already fighting, but we have already started our relocation efforts.)

“Our chief and singular concern is to take out of harm’s way our fellow Filipinos in Ukraine and bringing them to the nearest places of safety by the fastest possible way," added Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

"Our offer to take Filipinos in Kiev is underway and Usec. Sarah Arriola is spearheading the repatriation effort for Filipinos who want to come home," he said in a statement.

According to Cacdac, "three batches of OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) have been relocated to safer grounds." He declined to disclose the location of relocation sites.

Two Filipinos are en route to the Philippines after availing of the government's voluntary repatriation program, he added.

"Ngayon, voluntary pa lang ang repatriation at free plane ticket ang ino-offer natin," Cacdac said.

(As of now, we are just offering voluntary repatriation from Ukraine and we are providing free plane tickets.)

"Inaasahan natin na may magpapasya pang umuwi at tayo naman ay sasalubong sa kanila at magbibigay ng ayuda."

(We are expecting that more Filipinos will decide to come home, and we are ready to welcome them and provide aid.)

Department of Foreign Affairs
Courtesy of the Department of Foreign Affairs

Six other OFWs from Ukraine have returned to the Philippines earlier this month through the government's repatriation program, after geopolitical tensions rose in Europe as Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly continues to support rebel groups controlling portions of Eastern Ukraine.

Four of the repatriates boarded international flights from Kyiv while 2 took their flights from Lviv.

The Philippine Embassy in Warsaw, Poland has sent a consular team to Lviv "to enable faster coordination with the Filipino community and relevant authorities in the country," the Department of Foreign Affairs has said.

The 2 embassy personnel were directed to monitor the situation in Ukraine, as well as connect with the Filipinos in the country who have registered with the Embassy.

The Philippine Embassy in Warsaw exercises jurisdiction over Ukraine.

US officials said Russia had amassed more than 130,000 soldiers at Ukraine's borders who would start by bombarding the country's big cities and defense positions with missiles before moving in with tanks.

Western leaders consider the Russian troop build-up to be the worst threat to the continent's security since the Cold War, and have prepared a crippling package of economic sanctions in response to any attack on Ukraine -- although Moscow has repeatedly said it has no such plans.

"I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago — to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic," Putin has said.

He said earlier that "if Ukraine was to join NATO, it would serve as a direct threat to the security of Russia."

Putin has for years worked to restore Russia's influence over nations that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Ukraine holding an important place in his ambitions.

Malacañang earlier said it was "preparing for all eventualities" as more countries impose economic sanctions against Moscow.

- with reports from Michael Delizo and Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News; Reuters; and, Agence France-Presse

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