Standby fund for Mideast OFW exit not needed: Palace

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Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte no longer sees the need for Congress to convene a special session to prepare the “standby fund” for the mass repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) from the Middle East, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President has abandoned his plan to ask lawmakers to fund the return of OFWs from the Gulf states since the tensions between Iran and the United States already eased.

“With respect to the Middle East, since there has been de-escalation on the conflict there, I suppose that’s the reason why the President did not pursue his request to Congress to call for a special session,” Panelo told Palace reporters.

“Now, vis-à-vis the present eruption (of Taal Volcano), I understand we have enough funds for that (mass repatriation of Filipinos from the Middle East),” he added.

Duterte earlier called on Congress to hold a special session, following the stand-off between Iran and the US.

Tensions rose between Tehran and Washington after the recent death of Iranian top general Qassem Soleimani in a US drone airstrike in Iraq.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have expressed readiness for a special session to address the funding for OFW’s possible return to Manila.

Quizzed if there is no need for standby fund, Panelo said: “None that I know of.”

Mandatory repatriation of Filipinos living and working in Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq was initially imposed after the three Arab states had been placed under Alert Level 4.

To date, OFWs from Iran and Lebanon are no longer covered by the mandatory repatriation after alert levels in both countries have already been downgraded.

However, mandatory repatriation in Iraq remains in place and the deployment of Filipino workers to the Gulf state is still prohibited.

Data from the Department of Foreign Affairs revealed that there are around 4,000 Filipinos in Iraq.

Some PHP1.8 billion have been readied by the government for the repatriation of Filipinos from the Middle East.

On Tuesday afternoon, the President is expected to lead the send-off ceremony for a Philippine Navy ship bound for the Middle East to assist in the evacuation of OFWs who may be affected by the conflict between Iran and the US.

Panelo said the Philippine Navy ship will be deployed to the Middle East to ensure that OFWs in Arab nations are “safe and secure”.

“I understand the ship will be going there. I’m not very clear on whether there are troops there. What I know is one frigate has already been sent to secure the ship that has already been docked there in Qatar or near Qatar,” he said.

“We don’t know exactly whether it will again escalate or deescalate. So to be certain that our people there are safe and secure, we will be sending the ship,” Panelo added. (PNA)

Photo Credit: Philippine News Agency

The Philippine News Agency is a web-based newswire service of the Philippine government under the supervision of the News and Information Bureau (NIB) of the Presidential Communications Office (PCO).

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