MANILA- House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wants contingency measures for Filipinos working in Qatar in place should the situation in the kingdom deteriorate.
"While the situation in Qatar has remained stable, our government as early as now must create a task force to draw up contingency measures for the safety and welfare of the estimated 260,000 overseas Filipino workers in the area," Alvarez said in a statement released Tuesday.
Panic buying of food supplies broke out in Qatar after seven countries severed ties and closed their borders with the kingdom, accusing it of supporting extremism.
Doha denied the accusations and retaliated by saying its Gulf neighbors were seeking to put the country under "guardianship."
Alvarez did not rule out repatriation for Filipinos based there and noted that the reported panic-buying could be a prelude to a breakdown of peace and order.
"The possibility that we might have to repatriate a huge number of OFWs is a daunting task by itself. Even more challenging is the need to provide them with ample financial support," he said.
"This internal strife may lead to a full diplomatic crisis. It is imperative that, at this point, our government and the private sector and NGOs (non-government organizations) should work hand-in-hand to ensure that we can provide our OFWs in Qatar the appropriate assistance when the need arises. We must not wait until it's too late to act," he added.
Alvarez also asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to remain vigilant and closely monitor the situation in Qatar.
“Should the situation deteriorate, the embassy must be able to provide timely advisories to avoid possible panic and ensure the safety of our OFWs," he said.
The Philippine Embassy had advised overseas Filipino workers based in Qatar to remain calm and "exercise prudence as we all closely monitor the situation."
The labor department on Tuesday also announced a temporary, indefinite suspension on the deployment of Filipino workers to Qatar.
For his part, Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque wants the Philippines to mediate, arguing that Manila has a stake in the the political and economic stability of the Middle East.
“It would be prudent for our government to mediate and try to diffuse the tension, if only for the sake of our OFWs," Roque said.
A total of 127,917 Filipino workers are deployed in Qatar as of 2016, data from the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group showed. Meanwhile, the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates some 220,000 Filipino workers deployed in the kingdom.
"Aside from our OFWs, our interest in peaceful settlement of dispute are our dependence on oil, our trade relations in the region, and the elimination of extremist groups in Mindanao," Roque said.
"The conflict in the Middle East is proof that we live in a very interdependent word today. We should not wait until the crisis worsens," he said.
Roque said he filed a resolution at the House of Representatives urging President Rodrigo Duterte to act as intermediary in the conflict.
"The Philippines may be an effective mediator in the conflict due to its genuine interest to resolve the conflict and relative impartiality among the conflicted nations," Roque said in House Resolution No. 1067.
The lawmaker said Duterte should capitalize on the goodwill he built during his state visit to the region in April.
"He was warmly received during his state visit to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar. I believe he will be an effective mediator," he said.