President Rodrigo Duterte will side with the United States should a war break out as a result of heightened tensions between the superpower and Iran, his spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a press conference today.
Panelo said that the president, who has been increasingly critical of the U.S. after a much-vaunted pivot towards China, made the declaration during a Cabinet meeting last night, during which he also instructed his team to prepare for the possible repatriation of Filipino workers from the Middle East in the event of conflict.
The plans come as many observers brace for the worst after a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed Qasem Soleimani, the chief of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, which manages Iran’s overseas military operations. The Trump administration has said that killing the general was justified because Soleimani — seen by many as the second most powerful person in Iran — had been instrumental in past proxy attacks on Americans, and was planning more to come.
“The president is very specific in saying last night that if the Filipinos are harmed, he will side with the Americans,” Panelo said.
Duterte, Panelo added, had told Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Abdullah Mama-O to “deliver a special message to the Iraqi and Iranian government[s] of his urgent desire and wish that no Filipinos be harmed in the course of the conflict.”
“If they harm the Filipinos then the president will not sit down idly and watch,” Panelo said. “We’re allies with the Americans and their enemies might attack the allies of Americans.”
Duterte has long been viewed as critical of the United States, especially in light of its recent decision to bar Filipino politicians and government officials from entering the U.S. if they have been involved in the “wrongful imprisonment” of prisoners — namely, opposition Senator Leila de Lima. Duterte has even instructed the Immigration Bureau to ban three American senators from the Philippines who backed the measure.
His normally opinionated spokesman, meanwhile, declined to give an opinion regarding Soleimani’s killing today. When pressed, Panelo would only say the matter was “a fight between the Americans and Iranians,” and that the safety of overseas Filipinos was Duterte’s “only concern.”
According to the Filipino embassy in Iran, as of 2017 there were almost 2,000 Filipinos working there as nurses, teachers, and midwives.