RP MUSLIMS HAVE FIRST CRACK AT IRAQ JOBS

Cotabato City, April 29, 2003   Muslim leaders lauded yesterday an 
announced plan of the Arroyo administration to give priority to Muslim 
Filipinos in construction jobs that would be made available to Filipino 
workers in post-war Iraq.

"It's another potential means to uplift the socio-economic condition of our 
people," Dr. Parouk Hussin, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim 
Mindanao (ARMM), said of the preferential recruitment of Muslims for 
reconstruction jobs in war-torn Iraq.

In a Malacaņang statement issued last April 15, President Gloria Macapagal 
Arroyo said her regime will give Muslims, especially those in the former 
conflict areas in Mindanao, priority in the sending of Filipino contract 
workers to Iraq this year.

The Chief Executive deemed "meaningful" the prospective recruitment of 
people in strife-affected Muslim areas like ARMM because they would be in a 
better position to understand the suffering and deprivation of the Iraqis.

She said the planned sending of Muslim Filipino workers to Iraq would form 
part of her administration's "frenzied efforts in rehabilitating areas in 
Mindanao that have experienced the same kind of deprivation and violence."

Dr. Ibrahim Ibay Jr. and lawyer Paisalin Tago, speaker and speaker 
pro-tempore, respectively, of the ARMM's Regional Legislative Assembly, 
expressed similar appreciation for Mrs. Arroyo's pronouncement, saying this 
would primarily benefit the autonomous region being the area of most Muslim 
Filipinos.

The autonomous region comprises the provinces of Lanao del Sur, 
Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, and Basilan and the city of Marawi, all areas 
the government classified as the "poorest of the poor areas" in the 
country. Poverty in the region is attributed mainly to severe peace and 
order problems.

While expressing similar satisfaction over the Presidential announcement, 
other local Muslim officials expressed hope the government would provide 
reasonable wages for those to be sent to Iraq for reconstruction jobs.

According to published reports, the government earmarked a $3.6 (about 
P200) daily wage for each of the prospective Iraq-bound Filipino recruits. 
The amount is "unrealistic" during these days of economic crisis.

Earlier, Ambassador Roy Cimatu, who headed the government's Middle East 
Preparedness Team, told the President that in two months time, 50,000 to 
100,000 workers would be recruited for works in Iraq, including 
reconstruction of oil refineries, buildings, and other structures. (By Ali 
G. Macabalang, Bulletin)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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