Duterte orders AFP to prepare for evacuation of OFWs in the Middle East

Marje Pelayo   •   January 7, 2020   •   306

President Rodrigo Duterte

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has alerted the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the event that the tension between Iran and the United States of America escalates.

During the 45th meeting of the President’s Cabinet on Sunday (January 6), the President expressed grave concern over the condition and safety of overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East particularly in countries involved like Iran, Iraq and nearby Arab nations, according to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

“He stressed that it is the paramount duty of the government to give protection to the Filipinos whenever their lives are in peril and wherever they are,” Panelo quoted the President.

Thus, during the meeting, President Duterte ordered the military to prepare their air and naval assets for possible evacuation of Filipinos in the event hostilities erupt between the US and Iran.

Aside from creating a special working committee composed of members of his Cabinet, the President also directed all concerned government agencies to prepare for contingencies that will absorb displaced workers to government projects.

Meanwhile, the President also ordered Special Envoy to the Middle East Secretary Roy Cimatu to immediately fly to the Middle East to establish coordination with the host countries and lay the groundwork for the evacuation.

Likewise, Panelo said, President Duterte instructed Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Abdullah Mamao to proceed to Iran and Iraq to deliver the President’s special messages to the Iranian and Iraqi Governments on the safety of the Filipinos working in their respective countries.

DFA: Filipino workers can now return to Hong Kong, Macau despite coronavirus travel ban

Robie de Guzman   •   February 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos working in Macau and Hong Kong can now return to their jobs despite the travel ban being implemented on China and its territories due to the threat of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.

In a Twitter post, DFA Undersecretary Brigido “Dodo” Dulay announced that Filipino migrants returning for work in Hong Kong and Macau have been exempted from the outbound travel ban.

However, Dulay said they will be subjected to “certain procedural formalities.”

“OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) returning for work in Hong Kong and Macau have been exempted from the outbound travel ban by the IATF-EID (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) subject to certain procedural formalities,” he said.

Hundreds of Filipino workers bound for Hong Kong and Macau were left stranded in the Philippines after President Rodrigo Duterte on February 2 imposed travel restrictions on China and its territories hit with the deadly virus.

Stranded migrant workers were offered P10,000 cash assistance, and provided with dormitories and food while they await the lifting of the travel ban.

Groups of OFWs have earlier appealed to the government to let them return to China and its territories in fear of losing their jobs.

US, evacuate citizens from Japan cruise ship; South Korea to follow suit

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 17, 2020

The United States (US) has evacuated its citizens from the virus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan.

Two planes carrying around 300 American citizens left Haneda Airport on Monday morning (February 17).

South Korea also plans to bring home their citizens in the said cruise ship.

“Even before February 19, the government plans to bring those South Koreans home if they are tested negative from screenings by the Japanese authorities and are willing to return. We will first check our people’s intentions and then cooperate with the Japanese government,” according to South Korea Minister of Health and Welfare, Park-Neung Hoo.

Canada and Hong Kong will also send planes to evacuate their citizens.

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said they will assist in repatriating Filipino crewmen aboard the cruise ship.

538 Filipinos are aboard the Diamond Princess, 531 are crewmen while 7 are passengers. There already 27 of them who tested positive of COVID-19.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Ed Meñez said the Filipinos who tested positive of the virus are already brought to the hospital for better care.

“We received information that aside from the 11 Filipino crew members who are earlier identified, another 16 have been identified over the weekend to have been identified as COVID positive,” he said.

The DFA also said the Inter-Agency Task Force will discuss their planned action in a meeting to assist the Filipinos aboard the cruise ship.—AAC (with reports from Joan Nano)

PH-US military drills within 180 days of VFA scrapping to push through — Lorenzana

Robie de Guzman   •   February 13, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The military exercises between the Philippines and the United States scheduled for the following months will still push through despite the Duterte government’s move to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday.

In a statement, Lorenzana said the training between Filipino and American soldiers will still proceed as scheduled within the 180 days that the VFA remains in force.

“With the formal serving of the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, this year’s planned military exercises with the Americans shall proceed as scheduled within the 180 days that the VFA remains in force,” he said.

The Defense chief, however, said American troops may opt to discontinue the exercises before the 180 days are up.

Once the VFA’s termination is final, Lorenzana said Filipino troops will stop conducting military drills with their American counterparts.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday confirmed that they have received the notice of termination sent by the Philippine government. — RRD (with details from Correspondent Lea Ylagan)

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