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Speaker warns of repercussions for OFWs amid Gulf rift



Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Tuesday said the ongoing Middle East diplomatic crisis could have serious implications on the safety and welfare of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Qatar.

The Gulf diplomatic rift was sparked by the decision of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain to break off relations with Qatar over alleged terrorism links.

In a statement, Alvarez said the Department of Foreign Affairs, through the Philippine Embassy in Qatar, should “remain vigilant and closely monitor the situation”. He added that the embassy must adopt measures to ensure open communication lines with the Filipino community.

"Should the situation deteriorate, the embassy must be able to provide timely advisories to avoid possible panic and ensure the safety of our OFWs," Alvarez said.

The House leader also urged the Philippine government to create a task force to draw up contingency measures to ensure the safety of an estimated 260,000 OFWs in Qatar.

Alvarez expressed concern over the reported panic-buying which could be a “prelude to a breakdown of peace and order”, and in turn, “may lead to a full diplomatic crisis”.

"The possibility that we might have to repatriate a huge number of OFWs is a daunting task by itself. Even more challenging is the need to provide them with ample financial support," Alvarez said.

"It is imperative that at this point, our government and the private sector and NGOs should work hand in hand to ensure we can provide our OFWs in Qatar the appropriate assistance when the need arises. We must not wait until it’s too late to act," he added.

For his part, Kabayan Partylist Rep. Harry Roque said the Philippine government should mediate to diffuse the escalating diplomatic tensions in the region, noting the huge number of OFWs currently in the Middle East.

"We have a stake in the political and economic stability of the Middle East as almost a million of our kababayans (countrymen) work there. It would be prudent for our government to mediate and try to diffuse the tension, if only for the sake of our OFWs," he said.

Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) data in 2015 revealed more than 900,000 OFWs work in the Middle East.

Roque also filed House Resolution No. 1067 in the lower chamber urging President Rodrigo Duterte to act as intermediary in the conflict.

"The Philippines may be an effective mediator in the conflict due to its genuine interest to resolve the conflict and relative impartiality among the conflicted nations," Roque said.

Furthermore, Roque believes President Duterte could be an effective mediator considering the goodwill he built during his state visit to the region last April.

Filane Mikee Cervantes/PNA