Press Release
January 8, 2020

Villanueva: Tap OWWA's P65-M repatriation fund for mandatory evacuation of Pinoys in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon

The government's emergency repatriation fund lodged in the Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration (OWWA) amounting to P65 million should be tapped to finance the mandatory evacuation of Filipino workers and migrants in the Middle East as tensions heighten over the killing of a top Iranian military official, according to Senator Joel Villanueva.

Villanueva, chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development, said the fund, which was included in the 2020 General Appropriations Act that President Duterte signed earlier this week, would be enough to jumpstart the government's order to Filipino workers to leave Iraq.

"The safety and security of our Filipino compatriots are the top priority of our government. Now that our diplomats and security officials have determined the imminent danger in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, we ask our countrymen to heed the call to return to the country immediately," Villanueva said in a statement.

He urged OFWs to ensure their important documents such as passports and travel documents, and employment contracts, among others, are in safekeeping so that they could readily gather it if the need to evacuate the region arises.

"Isa lang po ang pakiusap natin sa ating mga kababayan sa Middle East. Hiling natin na tumalima sila sa panawagan ng ating pamahalaan sakaling ideklarang hindi na ligtas ang rehiyon para sa mga manggagawa. Kaligtasan at seguridad po ninyo ang pinakamahalaga sa atin, at ayaw po nating mag-alala ang inyong mga pamilya dito sa Pilipinas," Villanueva implored.

"Huwag po tayo umasa sa mga haka-haka o sabi-sabi 'pag dating sa isyu ng seguridad," he added, as he urged Filipinos to scrutinize the information being passed around, especially on social media.

Villanueva also said he was keen to call for a public inquiry to ascertain the government's capacity and preparedness to mobilize thousands of Filipinos in the Middle East.

"We expect our government agencies, mainly the Departments of Labor and Employment, and Foreign Affairs, to present to the Senate Labor committee how they intend to gather our OFWs working in the Middle East and repatriate them should the region become unstable as a result of political developments there," he said.

The senator said he would be filing a resolution on the matter for the Upper Chamber to tackle when session resumes.

About 2.17 million Filipinos, OFWs and migrants, are in the Middle East as of June 2019, according to data from the Department of Labor and Employment.

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