BAN ON MIDEAST-BOUND OFWS LIFTED

Manila, March 22, 2003 -- The Philippine government yesterday lifted a
day-old ban on contract workers going to the Middle East, except Iraq,
despite the US-led war on Baghdad.

Immigration supervisor Ferdinand Sampol said Filipinos will once again be
allowed to go to work in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Israel, following an
order lifting a ban imposed on Thursday as part of precautions after US-led
forces moved against Iraq.

A ban on workers going to Iraq, however, will remain in force. The
Philippines has 1.5 million contract workers in the Middle East, half of
them in Saudi Arabia. There were fewer than 100 Filipinos in Iraq prior to
the war.

President Arroyo has given her backing for the US armed action with the
expectation that the war would be "surgical, short and swift" and would not
pose "a mortal threat" to the Filipino overseas workers.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) yesterday ordered for the
suspension of deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to the Middle
East lifted and allowed those with valid clearances and flight bookings to
leave the country.

Reports said the DoLE decided to reverse the suspension order after that
hundreds of OFWs had been stranded at local airports, particularly at the
Ninoy Aquino International Airport and had trooped to their recruitment
firms to complain about the sudden imposition of the suspension order the
other day.

But DoLE Acting Secretary Manuel Imson explained the Labor department had
decided to relax the suspension only on three countries, namely Israel,
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, after a careful assessment of developments in the
region.

"It appeared from our assessment that the three countries remain safe,
specially for air travel of OFWs," Imson said.

The other day, the DoLE issued Department Order 42-03, ordering the
suspension of the deployment of all OFWs to the three countries and Iraq
which are said to be the far-most affected countries during the war.

Imson earlier said the DoLE and the Department of Foreign Affairs issued
such order considering the danger it poses to OFWs if they will be allowed
to continue their work in the said countries.

But yesterday, Imson amended the department order with an amended
Department Order 42A-03, which allowed only OFWs who possess valid overseas
employment clearance and confirmed flight bookings to leave for the Middle
East.

"We decided to amend the previous order to allow OFWs with valid overseas
employment clearance and confirmed flight bookings processed before March
20 to return to their work places," Imson said.

He added he ordered the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to
look after the welfare of the stranded OFWs in NAIA and provide them free
accommodation, transportation and food while they process their travel
papers at the OWWA hostel in Manila.

As this developed, Imson announced the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has
allowed OFWs who arrived in the country from the Middle East to convert
Middle Eastern currencies they have to pesos. According to the BSP, OFWs
who are interested to have their money converted to the local currency have
up to 10 days upon arrival to transact while only up to P10,000 in
equivalence of the foreign currency are allowed to be converted per OFW.

Only the currencies of Iraq, Kuwait, Israel and Turkey are being accepted
for conversion.
The government has estimated a total of 1.1 million Filipinos are working
in countries considered critical areas  Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Qatar and
Saudi Arabia. (Tribune)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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