Manila, Feb. 2, 2003 - Majority of Filipinos working in the Middle East prefer to stay put rather than be evacuated to the Philippines in the event of a war in Iraq.

This sentiment was evident in the results of a survey conducted by the Middle East Preparedness Team last month, according to Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Reynaldo Paru-ngao, who is also a deputy of MEPT chairman Roy Cimatu.

Parungao told the weekly Kapihan sa Sulo forum in Quezon City yesterday that the survey was conducted last month while the MEPT, along with seven military experts in biological weaponry and warfare, supervised lectures on the government's contingency plans for Filipinos working in the region.

Parungao said the results gave them the impression that despite the looming war, it was "business as usual" for some 83 percent of 60,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait.

He said the survey results prompted them to assume that most Filipinos working in other Middle East countries would show a similar preference.

The survey was conducted in malls, parks and other public places frequented by Filipino workers in the Middle East.

"Based on the surveys... only a maximum of 10,000 (Filipinos in Kuwait) wanted to be evacuated and the rest wanted to stay," Paru-ngao said.

The primary reason given by the Filipino workers who opted to stay was that they wanted to keep their jobs to ensure continued financial support for their families in the Philippines.

Most of the Filipinos in Kuwait are domestic helpers or are employed by foreign embassies. They reportedly receive at least $300 (roughly P15,000) in monthly pay, a far cry from the minimum wage of P7,500 a month in the Philippines.

Parungao admitted that regardless of the extensive preparations made by the Philippine government, they may find it difficult to secure all of the Filipino workers in the region once the war erupts, unless the Filipinos fully cooperate.

Meanwhile, Parungao said the contingency plans designed by the government to ensure the safety of the estimated 1.4 million Filipinos in the region are already in place and at "any given signal, all of these will be activated."

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez, who was also at the forum, said the contingency plan will be implemented by 16 departments and agencies of the government.

Parungao said that Kuwait, Israel and some parts of Saudi Arabia fall under the "first level" of danger since these countries are closest to Iraq and Iran.

He also said that once armed conflict breaks out, some 120 Filipinos staying in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, will be the first batch to be brought to safer ground under the MEPT's contingency plan.

According to Golez, the government's contingency plans are similar to that of the scheme implemented by the government after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US and the bombing in Bali, Indonesia last Oct. 12.

He predicted that the US war against Iraq may take only four months, citing the supremacy of the US military capability compared to that of Iraq. (Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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