MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Philippine government has ordered the evacuation of more than 1,000 Filipino workers in Iraq due to security threats as tension continues to rise in the Middle East.
"As a result of the government's coordination meetings on the situation in the Middle East in the past few days, the Alert Level in the entire Iraq has been raised to Alert Level 4 calling for mandatory evacuation," Foreign Affaris Assistant Secretary Eduardo Menez told reporters on Wednesday, January 8.
The DFA states that Alert Level 4 is issued "when there is large-scale internal conflict or full-blown external attack."
The DFA said there were currently no alert levels in place in the neighboring countries of Israel and Saudi Arabia.
On Tuesday night, the DFA issued an advisory to Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, urging them to remain vigilant of potential security threats and to follow security protocols set by the Saudi government. The Philippine Embassy in Iran issued a similar advisory to Filipinos in the country, saying they should remain calm and stay in close coordination with embassy.
The latest in Iraq: The Pentagon said on Wednesday that Iran struck two airbases in Iraq where US and coalition forces are based."More than a dozen" ballistic missiles, it added, were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting US military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Irbil.
Iran claimed responsibility, with state TV saying the Islamic republic had launched missiles on the base.
What happens next? Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said contingency plans to evacuate Filipinos in Iraq were in place and the measures were discussed in a command conference with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang on Tuesday night, January 7.
In terms of immediate assistance, Lorenzana said the Philippine Coast Guard's BRP Diego Silang was stationed somewhere near Saudi Arabia to transport Filipinos in Iraq who wished to return home.
"I-hold muna natin siya diyan sa may bandang Saudi Arabia at maghintay sila ilang araw o linggo at baka meron nang gustong umuwi, sumakay na sila diyan (It will be stationed in Saudi Arabia and it will wait a few days or weeks, in case there are Filipinos who want to leave, they can ride there)," Lorenzana said in an interview with DZBB, adding the vessel could take in some 400 people.
All PH foreign posts in readiness. Prepared for the worst, hoping for the best Tugade orders our Coast Guard vessel in Malta to sail our colors into troubled waters. Ships being chartered for mass evacuations. Duterte made it crystal: do everything to protect his OFWs. pic.twitter.com/EEf423Lol1 — Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) January 7, 2020
Lorenzana said the Department of Foreign Affairs was gathering information on how many Filipinos wanted to leave the country. OFWs who wished to return home, he said, would be brought to a safe area from which they could leave by ship or plane.
In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, the DFA expressed "deep concern" over the events in Iraq and the security implications in the region. It ordered the Philippine embassy in Baghdad to implement the mandatory evacuation of the estimated 1,640 Filipinos living in the country.
The DFA said Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu was set to go to the Middle East to oversee the repatriation upon the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The Philippine government will also deploy rapid response teams to the region.
"Ang concern natin, yung kaligtasan ng ating kababayan sa Iraq.... Basta't Pilipino siya ay iuuwi natin (Our concern is the safety of our countrymen in Iraq.... As long as they are Filipino, we will bring them home)," Lorenzana said. – Rappler.com