MANILA — No Filipino was hurt in the Iranian missile strike that targeted two military bases in Iraq housing American troops, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary (DFA) Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Wednesday.
“So far, US said no Filipinos found to have been hurt. But search and damage assessment not complete,” Locsin said on his Twitter account, citing information from the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC.
Reports quoting the Pentagon said “more than a dozen missiles” were launched from Iran hitting the Al Asad and Erbil military bases in Iraq holding troops from the United States in what was believed as retaliation to a US airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds military force, on January 3.
According to official count from the Embassy, there are around 1,190 documented and 450 undocumented Filipinos in Iraq.
Amid the growing tension in the Middle East, the DFA on Tuesday convened an Inter-Agency Command Conference after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered government agencies to draw up emergency plans for Filipinos in the region.
Led by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola, the conference was attended by representatives from the Office of the President, House of Representatives-Office of the Speaker, Department of National Defense, Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Security Council, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Transportation, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and Office of Civil Defense.
On Wednesday, the Philippine government raised the crisis alert level in Iraq to 4 or mandatory evacuation.
Upon orders from President Rodrigo Duterte, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu on Tuesday said he will immediately act on evacuating OFWs from Iraq.
“I will do my best to do another mission for our country, to bring Filipinos out of harm’s way,” Cimatu said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
“I believe that this could be the target, initially, dito sa (in) US facilities inside Baghdad. Almost the same area where the Iranian general was killed,” Cimatu added.
He said, currently, the estimated workers staying in Iraq are around a thousand but the data still needs to be reviewed as there may be more. He also already informed the Philippine Embassy to move out.
In 2003, Cimatu, as former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s special envoy to the Middle East, helped repatriate Filipinos caught in the war in Iraq.
Duterte re-appointed Cimatu to the post prior to his appointment as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
“We need to make individual plans in each country (where there are Filipinos) that may be affected by the tension between the US and Iraq,” he added.
Duterte also formed a six-man special working panel composed of his Cabinet members.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the committee consists of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperson Jr. and Secretaries Teodoro Locsin Jr. (Foreign Affairs), Delfin Lorenzana (Defense), Silvestre Bello III (Labor), Eduardo Año (Local Government), and Arthur Tugade (Transportation).
Panelo added the Armed Forces of the Philippines was also ordered to prepare its air and naval assets for the evacuation of OFWs, in case armed or military warfare between the US and Iran takes place.
US President Donald Trump, in response, threatened that there will be “major retaliation” if Iran avenges the killing and warned of massive economic sanctions against ally Iraq if the country expels US troops based there. Joyce Ann L. Rocamora with reports from Joice Cudis/PNA – northboundasia.com