RP TO SPEND P70-M MONTHLY FOR IRAQ CONTINGENT

Manila, April 22, 2003 -- Members of the police and military forces who had
earlier volunteered to join the peacekeeping mission in Iraq have
reportedly backed out their plans, given the measly $3 a day allowance the
US government has allocated for them.

But the Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday debunked this, as well
as an earlier Tribune report of the Filipino contingent participating in a
humanitarian-peace keeping mission in Iraq would be receiving a mere $3 a
day, apart from their basic pay.

The PNP claimed the members of the Philippine contingent will be getting a
total allowance of $53.50 a day, apart from basic pay.

It was, however, admitted by Senior Supt. Leopoldo Bataoil, PNP spokesman
that the llowance package is still being worked out as the Philippine
government would be shouldering $50 of the said amount.

But Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman yesterday admitted that the
500-man Filipino contingent, composed of socio-civic and peacekeeping
personnel, who will be assigned to war-torn Iraq will not be receiving any
hazard pay from either the Philippine and US governments.

Soliman categorically stated that the members of the Filipino humanitarian
mission will only be getting their usual salary plus the proposed $3 a day
per diem that will be provided by the US government.

"They (Philippine mission) should expect a hard life, a spartan life as
they can be caught in crossfires because there could still be pockets of
resistance (from Iraqis)," she told reporters at the Department of Foreign
Affairs.

Soliman said an advance team of 40 mostly women social welfare staff will
leave for Iraq on Sunday.

"They are Moslems and they have the knowledge of Arabic or have worked with
Moslem communities and have been trained in responding to disasters," she
added. Soliman said the social welfare contingent will help in the
distribution of water and food to Iraqis for three to six months.

For the first month, she added the Philippine government will shoulder the
expenses of the mission, while the US government will foot their bill for
the succeeding months. This is contrary to what was earlier agreed upon by
the US and Philippine sides where the US will only shoulder the expenses of
the humanitarian and peacekeeping mission for only one month.

Soliman failed to explain how Manila will shoulder the entire expenses of
the Philippine contingent.

"We will use the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development)
budget," she said, despite the fact that the DSWD is not legally allowed to
use its appropriation for the mission as this has not been allocated by
Congress for the purpose.

"The $3.50 coming from the coalition forces as earlier announced will be
given to them (peacekeeping mission) plus $50 which is still being worked
out. So, a total of $53.50 will be given to them but that is still
tentative," the PNP spokesman claimed, saying the $50 will be coming from
the Philippine government, but it's still being worked out," Bataoil said,
adding, "Their take-home pay and allowance will not be touched."

The PNP spokesman also did not clarify how the Philippine government or the
Defense Department can  provide $50 a day for each member of the
peacekeeping force, since Congress has not allocated this amount.

Rep. Apolinario Lozada, chairman of the House committee on foreign
relations, also yesterday slammed the planned deployment of the Philippine
mission, which he predicts will cost government some P70 million a month.

Lozada called this plan "highly impractical and unfair to the (millions of)
Filipinos" who live in dire poverty, noting that "we should take care of
our own people first."

He pointed out that if there is any country that should shoulder the
reconstruction of post-war Iraq, it should be the United States and Britain.

Taking his cue from a statement issued by the United Nations, Lozada said
the United States and Britain are morally and politically bound to attend
to the needs of the Iraqis.

"Since the US agreed to shoulder the food, water, shelter and other basic
requirements of the (members of the) Philippine contingent, it might as
well should their daily allowance. Anyway, they are the principal sponsors
of this war," he added.

The lawmaker explained that the bill would translate to P842.40 million if
the mission lasts a yearan amount which could have been spent here to
improve health conditions, education and social services particularly those
affected by the government campaign against local terrorists.

Lozada apparently alluding to victims of military offensives against the
Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Central Mindanao, said the government
should instead spend the money for the thousands of families now living in
evacuation centers.

The PNP spokesman, however, insisted that it is not the dollar allowance
that is important. He, at the same time, dismissed possible discouragement
from the policeman-volunteers as a result of the lower allowance package.

"We have not monitored anything of that sort at the moment. The allowance
is still being worked out. They are alerted for possible deployment within
the end of the month."

The Filipino contingent will be composed of 300 soldiers, 100 policemen, 60
doctors, 39 social workers and one Foreign Affairs representative. They are
initially scheduled to leave for Iraq before May 15.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said the deployment could be
delayed due to legal and administrative procedures that should be worked out.

AFP vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia, the concurrent AFP
spokesman, said a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) would have to be forged
with the governments of Qatar and Kuwait before the humanitarian mission
commences.

SOFA will govern the legal presence of Filipino troops in Qatar ad Kuwait.
It also includes protective clauses and jurisdiction over cases involving a
member of the humanitarian team.

Garcia said while the humanitarian team can fly directly to Iraq for its
mandate, some of the team members would have to be in Qatar to coordinate
with the US Central Command. (Tribune)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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