PHILIPPINES SENDS ENVOY TO IRAN, IRAQ TO DISCUSS SAFETY ISSUE OF FILIPINO WORKERS

NASHIR MANSOR

MANILA, Jan 7 (Bernama) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday sent an official to Iran and Iraq to discuss the safety of approximately 7,600 Filipino workers amid rising tensions in the Middle East, Xinhua news agency reported, quoting a statement by presidential spokesperson.

"(Duterte) has instructed Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Abdullah Mamao to proceed to Iran and Iraq today to deliver the special messages of the (president) to the Iranian and Iraqi governments on the safety of the Filipinos working in the aforesaid countries, specifically conveying his urgent desire that no Filipinos be harmed in the course of the ongoing conflicts," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

The Philippine Department of National Defence said there are 1,600 and 6,000 Filipinos in Iran and Iraq, respectively.

Panelo said Duterte also ordered Roy Cimatu, his special envoy to the Middle East, "to fly to the Middle East immediately to establish coordination with the host countries and lay the groundwork for the evacuation."

On Sunday, Duterte ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippine (AFP) to prepare to deploy its aircraft and ships "at any moment's notice" to evacuate the overseas Filipinos workers in Iran and Iraq amid the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran following last week's US airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

"(Duterte) ordered the AFP to prepare their air and naval assets for the evacuation of our countrymen in the event armed or military warfare between the United States and Iran takes place," Panelo said.

According to Panelo, Duterte expressed grave concern on Monday over the heightening tensions gripping the Middle East region where nearly three million Filipinos are working.

-- BERNAMA