Duterte to AFP: Be ready to evacuate Filipinos if Middle East tensions rise
MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to be ready to evacuate Filipinos in the Middle East if tensions worsen in the aftermath of the killing of Iran's top general by the United States.
In a statement, Department of National Defense Spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said that the President gave this order during an emergency meeting on Sunday, January 5.
In attendance were key defense officials, including heads of the army, navy, and air force, as well as police.
"The President has tasked the AFP to prepare its air and naval assets to evacuate and bring home our countrymen if and when open hostilities erupt in the Middle East that may endanger their lives," Andolong said.
The officials also discussed how to ensure the safety of Filipinos in the Middle East, "especially those in Iraq and Iran as the tension between the US and Iran rises."
There are 1,600 and 6,000 Filipinos in Iran and Iraq, respectively.
The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier urged all Filipinos to cancel any travel to Iraq and those already in the country to stay in close coordination with the Philippine embassy should mandatory evacuation take place.
Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force foreign operations arm, was killed in a US drone strike at the Baghdad International Airport last Friday, January 3. His killing is the latest in the escalation of tensions between Iran and the US.
Iran has threatened to take "severe revenge" for Soleimani's death, while US President Donald Trump warned that they would hit harder.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Saturday, January 4, that Filipino forces will not be dragged into war should fighting erupt between the US and Iran.
The Philippines' Mutual Defense Treaty with the US only covers the Asia-Pacific region immediately surrounding the Philippines, so it cannot be invoked in the event of an American war in the Middle East, added Lorenzana. – with a report from JC Gotinga/Rappler.com