President Rodrigo Duterte will not hesitate to side with the United States (US), the Philippines’ long-time ally, in the event that Iran “intentionally” attacks Filipino workers in the Gulf state, Malacañang said on Tuesday.
During the 45th Cabinet meeting held at Malacañan Palace on Monday night, the President gave a “friendly caution” that the Philippines will not take a “neutral” stance with regard to the rising tensions between the US and Iran.
Duterte made it clear that his administration will “side with the Americans,” in case Iran deliberately harms overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East, Panelo said.
“Hindi tayo magiging (We will not be) neutral. The President was very specific in saying last night that if the Filipinos are harmed, he will side with the Americans,” Panelo told Palace reporters in a press briefing.
“If they will harm the Filipinos, then the President will not sit down idly and watch,” he added.
Tensions between US and Iran continue to escalate after Qassem Soleimani, top Iranian military commander, was killed in a drone strike carried out by the US in Baghdad, Iraq last Friday.
Iran vowed revenge following Soleimani’s death, but the US also warned of attacking around 52 Iranian sites.
On Monday, the President sought the repatriation of OFWs in the Middle East, as he feared Filipino workers there might be put in peril amid the conflict between the US and Iran.
Duterte also asked Congress to prepare a “standby fund” that could be used for the possible repatriation of Filipino workers in the Middle East.
The Middle East hosts about 1.2 million OFWs.
The President’s latest pronouncement came, amid possibility that Iran might harm Filipinos working in the Arab nations, considering that the Philippines is an ally of the US, Panelo explained.
“Ang sinasabi ni Presidente, huwag niyong idamay ang mga Pilipino diyan sa away ninyo sa America kasi ‘di ba (The President is telling them not to involve Filipinos in their fight against the America because you know), we’re supposed to be allies of the Americans, and the enemies might also attack not only the Americans but the allies of the Americans,” he said.
“Kung papatayin mo ang mga Pilipino, ibig sabihin hindi tayo iimik? Eh ang kalaban nila ang Amerikano. Kaya nila gagawin ‘yun dahil kakampi tayo ng Amerikano (If they kill Filipinos, does it mean we will not make a move? Their enemies are the Americans, not us. If they kill Filipinos, that’s because we’re an ally of Americans),” Panelo added.
The Philippines established its diplomatic relations with the US in July 1946. The two nations also signed a Mutual Defense Treaty in August 1951 that serves as a foundation for a robust, balanced, and responsive security partnership.
Panelo, however, said the Commander-in-Chief failed to talk about the Philippine troops’ possible cooperation with the American forces, in case the situation in the Middle East exacerbates.
Meantime, diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Iran started in January 1964.
Don’t harm OFWs
Panelo said the primary concern of the President is the safety of the OFWs in the Middle East.
He stressed that Duterte’s only appeal for Iran is to ensure that the lives of the Filipino workers in the Gulf state would not be jeopardized.
The Palace official pinned hope that Iran would heed Duterte’s plea to protect OFWs amid its tensions with the US.
“He (Duterte) is expressing his concern for the safety of his countrymen, which is foremost in his mind,” he said.
“Ang sinasabi lang ni Presidente, huwag niyong idamay ang aking mga kababayan diyan. Eh most likely naman, palagay ko naman hindi nila idadamay (The President is telling them not to harm our countrymen there. Most likely, perhaps, they would not hurt them),” Panelo added.
Panelo said Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Abdullah Mamao and former special envoy and incumbent Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu are set to fly to the Middle East on Tuesday to relay the President’s grave concerns over the safety of OFWs there.
Cimatu was tasked by Duterte to meet with officials of the Arab countries and discuss the Philippines’ plan to repatriate Filipino workers there, while Mamao was directed to deliver the President’s special messages to the Iranian and Iraqi governments.
The messages to Iran and Iraq contained the President’s expression of concern over the safety of the Filipinos working in the two host countries, and conveyed his urgent desire that “no Filipinos be harmed in the course of the ongoing conflicts,” Panelo noted in a statement. (PNA)