Repatriation of first OFWs from Middle East delayed: Lorenzana
The repatriation of the first batch of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW's) from Middle East was delayed as the Ninoy Aquino International Airport was closed after Taal Volcano started spewing ash on Sunday.
"The first batch of 12 returning OFWs from Baghdad, Iraq is scheduled to depart for Doha, Qatar tonight, Monday, 13 January at 9:00 pm (Baghdad time). They will arrive in Doha at 12:30 pm, 14 January," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement issued 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 cancelled because of the Taal volcano eruption," he added.
Arsenio Andolong, DND spokesman, said the movement of OFWs from Baghdad to Doha was initially delayed because of processing of requirements while the flights from Qatar to Manila was cancelled after volcanic activity in Taal.
"Our committee is studying an alternative airport like in Cebu for example," Andolong told Daily Manila Shimbun in an interview on Monday.
Lorenzana said "DOLE ( Department of Labor and Employment) Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who is in Doha, Qatar, is set to accompany the OFWs on their flight home once their flight is confirmed."
"Acting under the guidance of DOLE Secretary Bello, OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac is leaving today for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to personally see to the welfare of our OFWs in the Middle East and assist in the repatriation effort. The Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) of the DOLE and DFA ( Department of Foreign Affairs) have been advised of his impending arrival," he said.
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, said Lorenzana.
"The Middle East Repatriation Team In Doha, Qatar, composed of DENR ( Department of Environment and Natural Resources) Secretary and Special Envoy to the Middle East Roy Cimatu, Ambassador Alan Timbayan, Labor Attaché David Dicang, Vice Consul Benjamin Celedio Jr, Admin Officer Cotawato Arimao, Consul General Roussel Reyes, are exploring all possible routes of repatriation by commercial airlines from Baghdad and Erbil in Iraq to Doha, Qatar and then to Manila," he added.
Last Saturday, the DND said the first batch of OFWs numbering to 14 will be flown to Manila on Sunday.
Andolong said the number of departing OFW's may change as some may reconsider while they are still in the Middle East.
Lorenzana said the Department of Foreign Affairs is coordinating with other countries that may provide landing or docking clearances, as well as access to refueling and replenishment facilities for the military assets that will be deployed to assist the repatriation of OFW's.
"One Del Pilar class frigate and one Tarlac class landing dock ship with a company-sized contingent of AFP humanitarian assistance personnel onboard have been designated for the repatriation mission," he said.
The Philippine Air Force has two C-130s and one C-295 transport aircraft, which are ready to fly to wherever they may be directed to pick up returning Filipinos and bring them to safety," he added. Robina Asido/DMS