The Philippine government now has multiple options—both via sea and air— in repatriating Filipinos that will be put at risk should tensions between the US and Iran escalate, after two local carriers have committed to free provide free flights from the Middle East.
This was disclosed by Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Director General Jim Sydiongco on Friday (January 10).
“Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines have agreed to accommodate free of charge stranded Filipinos in the UAE or in any of its available Middle East flights, once the plans for the repatriation has been outlined,” said the CAAP official in a statement.
Aside from air transport, the government is also preparing for the evacuation of Filipinos in Iraq, Iran and other areas in the Middle East via sea vessels.
Already dispatched to the region was the newly purchased BRP Gabriela Silang, which will be on stand by should the repatriation operation commence.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles also told reporters on Friday that “if needed, we might have to charter a cruise vessel para mas malaki.”
Nograles said the government is considering Qatar as transit point for the Filipinos that will be repatriated.
An initial P100-million budget was readied for the evacuation of Filipinos in Iran and Iraq alone.
Malacanang ordered the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in Iraq after a series of missile attacks was launched by Iran against US installations in Iraq, in retaliation to the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
US President Donald Trump called off a counterstrike after he was informed that no American was killed or injured in Iran’s “calibrated response” to the Soleimani assassination.
Still, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said mandatory repatriation from Iraq remains in effect, “while Filipinos in Iran, Libya and Lebanon who wish to come home because of the recent tensions will be assisted by the government.”
Two battalion of soldiers will also be deployed to assist in the rescue in repatriation of Filipinos, and not to engage in combat.
“Personnel to be deployed in the conflict areas will exclusively assist in the repatriation and humanitarian operations,” Lorenzana said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. said the government will pay for the penalties or debts of Filipinos that will be repatriated.