MANILA (UPDATE) — A Chinese official's recent remark on overseas Filipino workers in Taiwan and the Philippines' expanded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with United States is not a cause for concern, according to the Manila Economic and Cultural Office.
In an ANC interview on Monday, MECO chairman Silvestre Bello III asserted the situation in Taiwan remained "very normal" and that OFWs there were "well-protected".
"I would like to assure the relatives, parents, wives or husbands of our OFWs na napakaganda ang kondisyon ng ating mga OFWs doon. Wala pong cause for alarm," he told "Headstart".
"I will be the first one to tell all of you kung saka-sakaling merong emergency situation. Pero right now, wala pong tension. Normal na normal ang Taiwan.
"I don't see the relation of the welfare and protection of our OFWs in Taiwan and the additional presence of EDCA sites in the Philippines," Bello added.
(Our OFWs are in good condition. There is no cause for alarm. I will be the first one to tell all of you if there is an emergency situation. But right now, there is no tension. Taiwan is. very normal.)
The Philippines has a contingency plan to rescue thousands of OFWs in Taiwan in case they get affected by the rising tension in the Taiwan strait, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Monday.
“I like to emphasize the DFA as much as possible does not give statements. But rest assured ang mga kababayan natin they will be safe. Alam natin kung saan sila, we have records,” DFA Undersecretary Eduardo De Vega said.
About P10.6 billion are allotted for welfare services of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, including the emergency repatriation program, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said.
"Wala akong nakikitang masama kung mapaghandaan natin ang mga hindi kanais-nais na pangyayari at habang patuloy tayong umaasa na mananaig ang diplomasya at dialogo sa pagitan ng Taiwan at China," he said in a statement.
"We must, however, exhaust all means to ensure that our OFWs are safe."
Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian last week advised the Philippines against supporting Taiwan, which China claims as its territory and has vowed to bring the island under its control.
Following backlash against Huang, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said the ambassador's remarks were taken out of context.
It also provided a transcript of Huang's speech, where he said, "Some tried to find excuse for the new EDCA sites by citing the safety of the 150,000 OFWs in Taiwan, while China is the last country that wishes to see conflict over the Strait because people on both sides are Chinese."
"But we will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures. This is to guard against external interference and all separatist activities," the official transcript of Huang's speech read.
"The Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose 'Taiwan independence' rather than stoking the fire by offering the US access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait if you care genuinely about the 150,000 OFWs," it added.
The Philippines recently named 4 additional military bases that US soldiers can use under EDCA, 2 of which are located at the northernmost tip of Luzon, just a few hundred kilometers away from Taiwan.
Former National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos weighed in on the expanded defense deal between Manila and Washington.
She said China practically pushed the Philippines to the arms of the US due to its continuing aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
"We have to walk that fine line between leaning for our military and defense towards the United States of America and leaning on commerce and trade and other relationship, social and cultural, with China," Carlos also told "Headstart".
"Please, from your end, you only need to change your behavior in the South China Sea and believe me, there will be a sea change in our relationship with your country," she added.
— With a report from Joyce Balancio, ABS-CBN News