MANILA,  August 23, 2004
By Marvin Sy - Malacañang is bent on banning Filipinos from working in Iraq despite claims that they would lose jobs to other nationalities.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said over Radio Mindanao Network yesterday that the latest assessment on Iraq shows that it is still risky to deploy workers in that war-torn country.

"First and foremost is the safety and welfare of overseas Filipino workers," he said.

"We continue to assess the situation in Iraq, and based on the latest assessment, apart from the three (US military) camps, almost all areas of deployment are dangerous.

"So presently deployment of overseas Filipino workers is temporarily suspended. We hope that the people understand the policy because their safety is foremost (among the interests) of our government."

A team headed by retired Gen. Roy Cimatu, special envoy to the Middle East, and chargé d’affaires Ricardo Endaya of the Philippine embassy in Baghdad has submitted a report to President Arroyo indicating that only the three US military camps are "safe" in Iraq.

These are Camps Anaconda, Victory, and Taji.

Most of the 4,000 Filipino workers in Iraq are employed in Camp Anaconda.

Records at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration showed that the number of Filipino workers sent abroad had risen to 8.1 percent a month despite the ban.

Figures point out that 606,538 workers were deployed to various countries as of Aug. 16, an 8.1 percent increase from the 561,224 recorded during the same period last year.

POEA administrator Rosalinda Baldoz said the foreign labor market, including those in the Middle East have indicated a "sound recovery and brighter employment prospect" for Filipino workers.

"The prospects of economic growth in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar due to the presence of US forces, as well as the lifting of the ban on Filipinos in Oman indicate greater demand for OFWs in the coming month," she said.

Baldoz said other Middle East countries could provide "alternative employment" for Filipinos as they are "much safer" than Iraq.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have started banning other nationalities, including diplomats from crossing their borders into Iraq, she added.

Last Friday, thousands of overseas Filipino workers marched to Chino Roces Bridge (formerly Mendiola) across Malacañang in Manila to protest the ban on their deployment to Iraq.

The protesters said they are working in US military camps in Iraq and that their employers have given them a deadline to return, or their jobs would be given to other nationalities.

They have been waiting for a long time for the ban to be lifted, they added. — With Mayen Jaymalin

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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