ONLY NEW MIDEAST OFW CONTRACTS BANNED

Manila, March 24, 2003 -- Foreign affairs and labor department officials
said yesterday the restriction on the deployment of Filipino workers to
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Israel will be limited to "new deployments."

Officials said the partial ban was made following consultations with groups
of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and Philippine embassies in the Middle
East.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said new deployments refer to
workers whose travel and work documents have not been completed before
March 20. All travel to Iraq, however, remains suspended, DFA officials said.

The DFA said the ban was made partial since the situation in the Middle
East remains stable despite the fierce military offensives by US-led
coalition forces against Iraq.

Those exempted from the ban are OFWs who are on vacation leave in the
country and those whose families and immediate relatives are still at the
worksite; workers who are deployed far from the battle areas and those
whose work visas are about to expire.

Philippine ambassador to Riyadh Bahnarim Guinomia reported that the
situation in Saudi Arabia is secure despite the outbreak of war in
neighboring Iraq.

Guinomia recommended that Filipino workers with complete travel and work
documents and those who are on leave in Manila be allowed to return and
fulfill their job contracts.

He went on to deny reports of chaos and panic among Filipino workers there,
including reports of canceled outbound flights and overcrowding of airports.

"Saudi Arabia remains calm and peaceful and our workers are familiar with
the contingency plan," Guinomia said.

DFA Secretary Blas Ople said he agreed to the recommendation but on the
condition that the returning workers should immediately report and register
with the Philippine embassy or missions in their respective host countries
in the Middle East.

Last week, a big volume of OFWs returning to their Middle East employers
were prevented by the authorities from taking their flights at the Ninoy
Aquino International Airport (NAIA) as hostilities broke out in Iraq.

The OFWs complained that the move will adversely affect their employment
contracts.

The government has drawn up plans for the possible evacuation of OFWs on
the possibility that the ongoing conflict in Iraq spills over to
neighboring countries in the Middle East.

NAIA general manager Edgar Manda said a comprehensive plan was drawn up on
the possibility of huge influx of OFWs forced to go home.

Aside from ensuring the security of the airport from possible sympathy
attacks, Manda said the airport authorities are also conducting round the
clock close coordination with other government agencies tasked in
protecting the safety of an estimated 1.5 million migrant workers in the
troubled region.

Manda said his office has been coordinating with the Department of Labor
and Employment (DOLE) and various agencies with Middle East Preparedness
Team headed by retired General Roy Cimatu.

"It's important that we should be one step ahead during emergency
situations. As soon as we received advisories from these agencies that
there will be need for mass repatriation of our OFWs, then it is highly
important that our airports, particularly the NAIA, will be available in
the event of such situations," he said. (By Aurea Calica, Star)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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