MANILA, Philippines — The repatriation of the first batch of Filipinos from Iraq has been delayed by Taal Volcano’s restiveness, which led to the cancellation of Manila-bound flights.
At a press briefing on Monday at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Camp Aguinaldo, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the arrival of the first batch of evacuees from the Middle East has been delayed by the temporary closure of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) to arriving flights.
Lorenzana, who chairs the committee on the repatriation Filipinos in the Middle East, explained that while Naia operations resumed on Monday morning, departing aircrafts were given priority to free up the terminal bays for arrivals which have been put on hold.
In a 12 noon update on the status of government repatriation efforts, Lorenzana said the first batch of 12 returning overseas Filipino workers from Baghdad, Iraq, along with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III were scheduled to fly to Doha, Qatar, on Monday.
“The OFWs are scheduled to board a Qatar Airways flight to Manila. However, this still has to be finalized as all flights coming into Manila have been canceled because of the Taal Volcano eruption,” he said.
Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration head Hans Leo Cacdac is departing for Saudi Arabia “to personally see to the welfare of our OFWs in the Middle East and assist in the repatriation effort.”
“Requests for repatriation from OFWs in Iraq, Libya and other Middle East hotspots have been received by our embassies and consulates and their exit clearances are now being processed,” Lorenzana.
He added that the Middle East repatriation team, led by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, is exploring all possible routes of repatriation by commercial flights from Baghdad and Erbil in Iraq to Qatar and then to Manila.
Lorenzana assured the public that military personnel and assets are ready for deployment once the diplomatic clearances for landing or docking as well as access to refueling and replenishment facilities are secured.
For deployment are the frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar and landing dock BRP Davao del Sur with a “company-sized contingent of Armed Forces of the Philippines humanitarian assistance personnel onboard.” Also to be dispatched are two C-130s and C-295 aircraft.
Initially, two battalions of Marines and Army personnel were tapped for deployment by the AFP but the number was reduced on Cimatu’s and the labor department’s remark in a committee meeting on Thursday last week, “that it may not be wise to send uniformed servicemen to the Middle East due to the sensitivities of the countries there.”
They also noted that two battalions of soldiers would take up too much space on the ships and aircraft that may be needed for repatriates.
Based on the suggestion and upon President Duterte’s approval, the defense secretary said, only a small contingent of unarmed servicemen in civilian attire will be deployed to the Middle East to help in repatriation efforts.
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