RP SENDING 500-MAN HUMANITARIAN TEAM TO IRAQ

Manila, April 9, 2003 -- The Philippines will send a 500-member 
humanitarian task force to help in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq, 
President Arroyo said yesterday.

She also instructed her two key Middle East crisis managers to start the 
initial steps for the Philippines' involvement in the reconstruction.

The President's instructions were issued to ambassador Roy Cimatu, head of 
the Middle East Preparedness Team (MEPT), and National Security Adviser 
Roilo Golez, who leads the Middle East Cabinet Crisis Management Committee.

In a statement read during her teleconference at Malacaņang, Mrs. Arroyo 
said she would issue the appropriate executive order for the formation and 
deployment of the task force. She instructed Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas 
Ople to draft the order.

"I hope that this 500-man humanitarian task force will help in converting 
resistance to the coalition to one of cooperation, and that we will  by our 
deeds  put the humanitarian crisis on the top deck of priority (and) can 
help begin the reconstruction" of Iraq, she said.

The Department of National Defense (DND) will be the lead agency for the 
task force as soon as proper coordination is made with the US defense 
department.

She explained that the DND was chosen because the department, along "with 
the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has experience (in sending 
peacekeeping missions)."

Though no specific date was set for the Filipino contingent to Iraq, Mrs. 
Arroyo said this will likely take place after cessation of hostilities.

At the same teleconference yesterday, Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas 
told the President that Filipina nurses and construction workers would be 
among those most in demand among employers for the post-war reconstruction 
of Iraq.

Sto. Tomas said this information was relayed to her yesterday by Philippine 
ambassador Alberto del Rosario, who called her up after conferring with 
American contractors for Iraq's reconstruction.

"Del Rosario told me that American contractors (prefer) hiring our nurses 
and overseas Filipino workers for construction in the Middle East," Sto. 
Tomas said.

Mrs. Arroyo said that there is a need for the Philippines and the rest of 
the world community to start the flow of assistance to Iraq as soon as 
possible to avert a "humanitarian crisis" as United States-led coalition 
forces inch closer to victory.

"It's time to think of how best to help the Iraqi people recover from the 
ravages of war and to restore the economic and political institutions," she 
said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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