Manila – The labor department has set aside an initial P600 million for the immediate repatriation and assistance to overseas Filipino workers who will be brought home from the crisis-stricken Middle East.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III also said Wednesday that alternative overseas and local employment are being readied for affected workers following the rising tension between the US and Iran as Rapid Response Teams (RRT) have been constituted for immediate deployment.

Bello met with officials of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of National Defense (DND), National Security Advisers, NICA, and with the Mindanao Development Authority to discuss the situation of the Filipino workers in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and other neighboring countries affected by the tension.

“I informed the group that I am sending my senior officials to inform our OFWs the situation of the US-Iran tension and the plans of the government for repatriation,” Bello said.

The RRT will be led by Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Bernard Olalia who will be sent to Lebanon; OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac who will be sent to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; and Undersecretary Claro Arellano to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They will brief the OFWs and ensure a well-coordinated and safe repatriation of our workers, the labor chief added.

He said the RRT will encourage the OFWs to be repatriated back to the Philippines. However, we cannot force those who want to stay. “We will ask them to join the repatriation efforts, however, if they do not cooperate, then we can no longer do anything about it. We will also get in touch with their employers to let our OFWs come home,” Bello said.

Cacdac said that aside from the 100-million-peso repatriation fund, the labor department has a 500 million pesos stand-by fund for crisis and emergency situations which can be utilized immediately.

Records show that an estimated number of 2,174,611 Filipinos, documented and undocumented, are in the Middle East including Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, and Israel. The government also estimates a total of 2,191 Filipinos in Iraq and 1,184 in Iran.

Bello said that at the moment, no OFW has expressed willingness, nor have communicated with the DOLE, to ask for repatriation assistance from the government.

“As of now, we have not received any request from our OFW that they want to go home. Only their families have contacted us to check on their situation and for updates on the said countries,” Bello said.

Repatriated Filipinos will be provided with livelihood assistance, offered with training under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and will be encouraged to apply for other overseas job markets such as Russia, Japan, and Canada.

Meanwhile, OFWs on the said Arab countries and their families are advised by Bello to call Hotline 1348 and 1349 of the labor department should they need repatriation or any forms of assistance from the government. (DOLE IPS RELEASE)