PINOYS IN ME PREPARED TO EVACUATE

Manila, Jan. 30, 2003 (By Jose Rodel Clapano, Star) -- The Philippine government is ready to evacuate 1.4 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from the Middle East in the event of a US attack on Iraq, Ambassador Roy Cimatu said yesterday.

In a press briefing, Cimatu, who chairs the Presidential Middle East Preparedness Committee, said that the government will mobilize a text brigade to reach out to OFWs working in far-flung areas in the Middle East.

"All the embassies have been alerted, including the OFWs, their employers and the host governments in the Middle East. The preparedness plan has been in place. We will implement such action," Cimatu said.

He said that once hostilities break out, Filipinos in Iraq among them 80 OFWs, 30 embassy personnel and 50 employees of the United Nations will be immediately evacuated to safer countries such as Jordan by the preparedness team.

Cimatu disclosed that part of the contingency plan is to evacuate the OFWs via a 10-hour land trip from Baghdad to Jordan.

"The Jordan government has authorized us to stay in Jordan. Then, from Jordan, the OFWs could be transported to the Philippines," he explained.

OFWs in Kuwait, numbering around 60,000, will also be evacuated as the country is expected to be the battleground of the US-Iraq war. Other nationalities are said to be also leaving the country.

Out of the 2.2 million population in Kuwait, only 700,000 are Kuwaitis. The majority are Indians and nationals of other countries working in the oil-rich state.

Even the Kuwaiti government has a contingency plan for its people including the distribution of two million gas masks for use in case of a chemical weapons attack by Iraq. The ministry of public information has allowed the Philippines to have a radio program in Filipino to reach Filipinos.

Cimatu bared, however, that they are having difficulty convincing OFWs in Kuwait to leave, specially those working in oil companies which will continue their operations even if the war pushes through, because their employers are doubling their salaries.

At least 20 OFWs, he said, are working in Kuwaiti oil companies which are located in remote areas.

"We want to talk to them but they can hardly be contacted," Cimatu said.

Cimatu and his team will be returning to the Middle East to personally supervise the evacuation plans for OFWs.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Virgilio Angelo, a member of the preparedness committee, said that they will be leaving Saturday or Monday to attend to the government's contingency measures in the Middle East.


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