MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to prepare equipment to help evacuate Filipinos from the Middle East in case open hostilities erupt.
Mr Duterte called for an emergency meeting with defence officials on Sunday to discuss how US-Iran tensions could impact the safety of Philippine citizens in the Middle East, especially those in Iran and Iraq, the Department of Defence said in a statement.
"President Duterte ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be prepared to deploy military assets to repatriate overseas Filipinos in the Middle East, particularly from Iran and Iraq, at any moment's notice," said Senator Christopher Lawrence Go, a close ally of Mr Duterte who was at the meeting.
In a televised speech yesterday, Mr Duterte said he is considering calling Congress for a special session to ensure there are stand-by funds in case Filipinos in the Middle East have to be repatriated.
"We, Filipinos, are really in grave peril," Mr Duterte said in the speech. "I am nervous. Iran seems to be bent on a retaliation, which I think will come. It is a matter of time."
The Middle East is the Philippines' largest destination for land-based workers, with a deployment of more than one million annually, according to the latest government data. The region is also the second-largest source of cash remittances from overseas Filipinos, based on central bank data. There are 6,000 Philippine citizens in Iraq and 1,600 in Iran, according to the Department of Defence.
Other Asian nations with large populations of expatriate labour may face similar decisions amid the rapidly escalating tensions. South Korea's Foreign Ministry said last week it would work to increase the security of about 1,600 of its nationals in Iraq, where they work mostly in construction sites. Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said India was not planning to evacuate any citizens from the volatile region yet.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose country has a military alliance with the US and good ties with Iran, told a news conference yesterday that Tokyo was deeply concerned about rising tensions.
"Any further escalation should be avoided," Mr Abe said in Ise, Japan, adding that his country will proceed with a previously planned naval deployment to the Middle East. "I call on all of those involved to make all possible diplomatic efforts to calm tensions."
Japan's Cabinet on Dec 27 approved sending a Self-Defence Forces ship to waters around the Middle East on an intelligence-gathering mission. No date has been officially set for when the warship will arrive in the region, which accounts for almost 90 per cent of the country's oil imports.
BLOOMBERG, ASSOCIATED PRESS