Manila, Jan. 28, 2003 (Tribune) -- All Philippine embassies in the Middle East are on the highest level of alert as a US-led attack against Iraq becomes more imminent.

The Middle East Preparedness Team (MEPT) headed by presidential envoy Roy Cimatu has advised the Filipinos, mostly contract workers, to get ready for evacuation anytime in the event of war.

"Decision time is fast approaching. We have advised all embassies to be on the highest level of alert," he said shortly after a meeting with members of his team to fine-tune contingency plans in different embassies.

Cimatu added the MEPT began monitoring the developments in Iraq and the US on a 24-hour basis to determine if there is a need to activate the government's plans for the Filipinos.

He said the decision to relocate or evacuate the migrants will all depend on the disclosure by the United Nations weapons inspectors of their findings on Iraq, the State of the Nation Address of US President George W. Bush on Wednesday and his meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Camp David on Thursday.

"These are the series of scheduled developments that will give us a clear signal of developments in the next few days," Cimatu noted.

The presidential envoy said he will return to the Middle East soonest, adding he only flew to Manila for consultation and get additional instructions from government leaders.

Former Ambassador to Iraq Reynaldo Parungao, vice chairman of the MEPT, also yesterday said the Filipinos are ready to leave anytime if trouble erupts.

"We have advised the Filipino community to be on its (workers) toes. They are just awaiting the final instruction whether to move, relocate or congregate in their designated areas where they will be picked up by various teams set up to coordinate their mobility and movements," Parungao added.

Besides Baghdad, the other most critical areas in the region identified by the MEPT are Abu Dhabi, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Lebanon was included for being the home base of the Moslem extremist group Hezbollah and Syria for being at war with Israel for so long.

Cimatu said the MEPT has prepared provisions at a relocation site at Nuwai Seed located at the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Majority of Filipinos in the Middle East have told officials they would rather stay put than go back to an uncertain employment situation in the Philippines. The Filipino workers' refusal to leave stems from assurance by their employers and host countries of protection in case war breaks out. (Tribune)

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