Duterte wants Congress to allot fund for massive repatriation of Filipinos in Middle East if tension escalates
President Rodrigo Duterte is eyeing to call for a special session of Congress to approve a budget that could be used if there is a need to repatriate millions of overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East.
In a speech during the signing of the P4.1 trillion budget for 2020 in Malacanang, Duterte admitted that he was concerned about the situation of the OFWs in the Middle East if tension between the United States and Iran escalates.
"There is an evolving crisis somewhere. We do not know what would be the end result of this crisis. It could lead to a protracted war. It could be a wide-scale strife. But whatever it is we Filipinos are really in great peril," he said.
"We have so many Filipinos working mainly in the Middle East. I'm nervous. Iran seems to be hell-bent on a retaliation, which I think will come. It's a matter of time. There is much hurt and even the loss of lives in the Arabic world. And retaliation or the cry for blood is there," Duterte said.
Duterte said he has nothing to worry if not for the fact that there are a lot of Filipinos in the Middle East.
"And it would take us a huge gargantuan effort just in case total breaks out of how to bring them back safely," he said.
Duterte said he convened a meeting with the security officials on Sunday and ordered them to start preparing for contingency measures.
"So here you are. I was tinkering with the idea of calling a special session of Congress. (Finance Secretary Carlos) Sonny Dominguez (III) says we have unlimited funds for that. No. And since we had the money. If it spells the difference between the life and death of Filipinos, Sonny Domiguez says we have the money," he told the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives present during the signing of the 2020 General Appropriations Act.
Congress is still on Christmas break. It will resume the session on January 20.
Duterte suggested that Congress could discuss the problems and ramifications of the tension in the Middle East.
"I don't know where you want to put the money...but if there's a thing that would need on standby that the government can get immediately, source it from where so that we can use the money immediately. This has start to cut across accounting rules and all of that...we need billion there, just as standby. And calculate what would be the calibrated withdrawals first in places where it is really very dangerous," he said.
He surmised that if Iran would retaliate, it would do it in Saudi Arabia or Israel.
Saudi Arabia is the top destination of OFWs.
As to the fund to be allocated by Congress, Duterte said, "I’m very allergic to how the money is spent. I do not want to hold it. We might want to get some of the men with integrity and probity and they can be the disbursing body there."
US President Donald Trump had ordered an airstrike that killed last Friday top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad's international airport in Iraq.
The Iranian government condemned the attack as it vowed revenge against the US. Celerina Monte/DMS