By Ben Rosario
The reimbursement of fees as high as $10,000 paid by Iraqi employers to recruiters of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) is among the factors that has led to the snail-paced repatriation ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte for all OFW’s in troubled Middle East nations.
Since the executive department reached the decision for mandatory repatriation two weeks ago, only 15 people –13 adults and two minors – have made it back to the Philippines.
Appearing before the House committee on overseas workers affairs, key officials of various government agencies tasked to evacuate Filipinos from Iraq and Iran said everything is ready for the repatriation operations.
Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola of the Department of Foreign Affairs said another batch of OFWs from the war-threatened Middle East nations is expected to arrive in the Philippines on Thursday.
However, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, designated by President Duterte as special envoy to the Middle East, admitted that only 15 out of the 1,640 documented and undocumented OFWs have left Iraq.
Cimatu said they have listed 1,184 Filipinos living in Iran, but the majority of them prefer to remain in the Middle East country, notwithstanding the threat of hostilities between Iran and the United States.
He also said that Filipinos are not regarded as “combatants” by Middle East governments because of the Philippines’ neutral stance on the ongoing Middle East tension.
Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon has aired fears that sending Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard vessels to fetch Filipinos may make them targets of Iran’s “proxies” in retaliating against the U.S. in connection with the killing of top Irani General Qasem Soleimani in an American-launched drone strike three weeks ago.
Also appearing at the hearing were Secretaries Silvestre Bello III of the Department of Labor and Delfin Lorenzana of the Department of National Defense.
Arriola said employers have not been fully cooperative in granting exit visas to OFWs until portions of the fees they paid recruiters are returned.
Her concern was also raised by Cimatu, who said employers want their money back as some of them have paid as high as $10,000 to recruiters for every Filipino brought to them for employment.
Officials said many Filipinos in Iran married to Iranis have rejected repatriation and chosen to remain with their families there.
DFA Undersecretary Brigido Dulay assured lawmakers that the governments of Iraq and Iran have been very cooperative in the efforts of the Philippines to repatriate their nationals.
“We have already gotten assurance from Tehran, and they are assuring us that they will take care of all Filipinos in Iran. Anytime, in any situation, we can expect their full support and cooperation,” Dulay told lawmakers.
Queried by committee chairman and TUCP party-list Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza about the budget in evacuating OFWs, the Department of Budget Management said the government is ready to release P1.95 billion for the repatriation operations.