The evacuation of some Filipino workers from the Middle East will continue, even as the threat of immediate war between the United States and Iran seemed to dissipate after both signaled they would not seek an escalation in hostilities.
This was confirmed today by presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo in a press conference in Malacañang Palace, where he also responded favorably to reports that the U.S. and Iran have stated that they had no plans for further attacks. Tensions between the two spiked after a U.S. drone strike killed a high-ranking Iranian general in Baghdad last week, with Iran retaliating for the assassination with rocket attacks on U.S. bases.
“[That’s] good news for us if the conflict has de-escalated instead of escalating,” Panelo said. “That’s good news for everyone, especially for our overseas workers. But nevertheless, the move to evacuate and repatriate is still going on.”
Initially, the government announced that they would be repatriating Filipinos living in Iraq, but Panelo said today that those living in Iran and Lebanon will also be included.
Manila’s plan will go ahead “unless the de-escalation reaches the point where the safety of our countrymen is no longer in peril,” Panelo said. “There is a place where they will be evacuated. They will not be repatriated immediately.”
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, as of 2017, there were almost 2,000 Filipinos working in Iran as nurses, teachers, and midwives. As of June 2019, there are almost 4,300 Filipinos living in Iraq, 4,000 of whom were undocumented workers. There were almost 28,000 Filipinos in Lebanon as of 2014.
Shortly after Panelo made the statement, however, it was contradicted by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, who said in a statement today that Filipinos in Iran and Lebanon can choose to stay in those countries.
“Initially, the level of alert for Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon are the same — [Alert Level] 4. Although it was unofficial, I was informed yesterday that the alert level in Lebanon was put down to level 2 and I understand that there’s no more alert level in Iran,” Bello said.
The Philippine government has created a four-step alert level system, with Level 4 being the highest and indicating that a country is unsafe and Filipinos will need to be repatriated.
The mandatory evacuation of Filipinos living in Iraq will push ahead, and Bello added that the Philippines will not deploy any new workers to Iran, Lebanon, or Iraq for quite some time.