President Rodrigo Duterte has declared that the Philippines would side with its long-time ally the United States if Filipinos were harmed by Iranians, as tensions mount in the Middle East after a US drone attack killed the top Iranian general.
“We will not be neutral. The President was very specific in saying last night that if the Filipinos are harmed, he will side with the Americans,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
“If they will harm the Filipinos, then the President will not sit down idly and watch,” he added, quoting the President during Monday night’s Cabinet meeting.
But Duterte on Tuesday ruled out sending Philippine troops to join the Americans.
This, he said, is “out of the question, unless the national interest would demand” it.
He added that such a decision would also need the authorization of Congress.
Earlier, Duterte ordered top government officials to travel to the Middle East and check on the welfare of Filipinos there.
President Duterte asked Environment Secretary and former special envoy to Middle East Roy Cimatu to immediately fly to the region to lay the groundwork for the evacuation of some four million Filipinos there if violence breaks out and endangers their lives.
READ: M.E. strikes spark call for evac
The Chief Executive also instructed Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Abdullah Mamao to go to Iran and Iraq to convey to their governments his “urgent desire” that no Filipinos be harmed in the course of the ongoing conflict.
The military has also been preparing air and naval assets to bring home Filipinos in case fighting breaks out.
A special working committee was created to draw up measures for the repatriation of Filipinos.
The group is composed of Cabinet secretaries Delfin Lorenzana (Defense), Eduardo Año (Interior and Local Government), Teodoro Locsin Jr. (Foreign Affairs), Silvestre Bello III (Labor), Arthur Tugade
(Transportation), and Hermogenes Esperon Jr., the national security adviser.
Duterte also ordered government agencies to come up with plans for those who would be displaced to prevent the “economic dislocation” of their families.
“The President is gravely concerned with the condition and safety of overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Iran and nearby Arab countries,” Panelo said.
“He stressed that it is the paramount duty of the government to give protection to the Filipinos whenever their lives are in peril wherever they are,” Panelo added.
On Monday, Duterte urged the Congress to convene a special session and discuss a “standby fund” for the evacuation of Filipinos in the Middle East since he is expecting Iran to “retaliate soon” against the United States.
The House of Representatives is ready to accede to President Duterte’s request for Congress to convene in a special session to help map out contingency plans related to the ongoing tension in the Middle East, House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said on Tuesday.
Romualdez said the chamber was still awaiting for Malacañang’s formal communication on the issue.
“Such communication is needed to guide us on what is expected of Congress during the special session,” Romualdez said.
“We agree with the President’s pronouncement that the rising tension in the Middle East is a major concern that needs urgent legislative attention. We are ready to clothe the executive with all the powers needed to make sure that every Filipino is safe and secure in these trying times,” Romualdez said.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said if the President requests a special session to pass a supplemental budget for overseas Filipino workers, the Senate is prepared to act on his request.
“The President can also utilize for the meantime the billions of pesos of contingency funds in the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, available for repatriation immediately,” he said.
He said funds are readily available for these emergencies.
“We also support the President’s plan to set up a Crisis Committee in charge of the massive plan to bring back our OFWs in case war breaks out between Iran and the US and its allies such as Saudi Arabia, which hosts over a million Filipino workers,” he said.
READ: New attacks trigger fears of US-Iran proxy war
“That is a gargantuan task, and we would need the support of all our government agencies to be able to bring home such a large number of people,” Zubiri added.
The Philippine National Police has ordered its aviation forces to intensify security in airports in the wake of escalating tensions in the Middle East.
Brig. Gen. Crizaldo Nieves, chief of the PNP Aviation Security Group, said 200 police officers are currently undergoing training and they plan to recruit 500 more.
Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, chief of the PNP Directorial Staff, said all airports must be secured to prevent any attacks in a possible proxy war.
While they have not yet received any credible threats, Eleazar said it would be better for the PNP to be on guard and take preemptive actions to prevent attacks from occurring. With PNAREAD: Letter on US pullout from Iraq a ‘mistake’
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