Manila, Feb. 5, 2003 -- Kuwait's ruler Emir Sheik Jaber al Ahmed al Sabah has pardoned 22 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) jailed in the emirate for various crimes.

At the same time, about 200 OFWs who have violated their employment contracts will also be repatriated.

President Arroyo made these announcements yesterday upon her return from a two-day visit to Kuwait to look into the condition of OFWs amid the threat of war.

Speaking at the Philippine International Trade Center along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City, Mrs. Arroyo said she has instructed Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, who is in Kuwait, and Philippine Embassy charge d' affaires Bayani Mangibin to speed up the repatriation of the first batch of 22 OFWs.

"A result of my meeting with the officials of Kuwait, specially with Sheik Al Sabah, is the (pardon of) 22 Filipinos who were in jail and he said he would look into the cases of the others," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said she also ordered Sto. Tomas to organize as soon as possible the return of the 200 OFWs who have violated their employment contracts.

"There are 200 of them as a gift to my visit there...," she said." Aside from allowing them to return to the country, the government of Kuwait would be the one to pay for their transport back home."

Mrs. Arroyo said she was satisfied with the contingency plans adopted by the various Philippine embassies in the Middle East for the evacuation of some 1.5 million OFWs from Kuwait and the rest of the region in case of war between the United States and Iraq.

"We've coordinated our (contingency) plans with host governments and firms employing the Filipinos," she said. "The plan is calibrated along the imperatives of standstill, relocation, or full evacuation. So all possibilities were included in the plans."

Mrs. Arroyo said she has instructed Ambassador Roy Cimatu, head of the Middle East Preparedness Team, to assess and evaluate the requests of some Philippine ambassadors in the region for at least $50,000 fund support for additional vehicles.

"We want to optimize available resources," she said. "And we are prepared to spend all resources available to keep (OFWs in the Middle East) safe.

The funds would be taken from the P1 billion allocation for the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), she added. (Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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