The online news portal of TV5
MANILA, Philippines – There is no need for an immediate evacuation plan for Filipino workers in Mideast areas now gripped by protests despite violent attacks on embassies of some Western countries over an anti-Islam film, according to Vice President Jejomar Binay.
First, the attacks zero in on United States facilities and nationals; second, many Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)---over a million of whom are in the Middle East---are professionals working in facilities “out in the desert” or far from cities where the riots took place, and they work in well-secured facilities, Binay explained.
In a separate development, however, the Migrante-Middle East, a support group for OFWs, advised Filipinos to take all precautions, avoid hot zones and above all, continue to show respect for their host country’s culture and beliefs.
The vice president, concurrently the presidential adviser on OFW concerns, has been overseeing, in collaboraton with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the repatriation of Filipinos from Syria, which has been wracked by a deadly civil war for months.
The riots that erupted in other Mideast countries started on September 11, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, after an Egyptian TV station showed excerpts of a little-known film, said to be produced by a far-right Christian group in the US, mocking Islam and the prophet Mohammad.
The violent protests against the United States---with other Western countries like Germany also suffering some attacks on their consular sites—have since spread. On Saturday, the Pentagon said the US was positioning forces in at least 17 to 18 areas where the violent rallies could get out of hand.
Asked if he saw the need to evacuate OFWs from Libya, where the worst attack happened, killing the US ambassador and three others, Binay said in an ambush interview Saturday night, “Not really. As I watched on TV, the demonstrators are not that many, including the trouble-makers, even in Cairo.”
Binay said Philippine authorities “just have to set up the plan” to closely monitor events at all times and keep the Filipinos advised about places to avoid in order to stay safe.
“Most of our OFWs in Libya, even if trouble erupts there, are not in Tripoli. They are in the desert, in the oil fields,” he added.
US embassy security in Manila
The heavy security measures at the US Embassy in Manila may seem extreme, Binay said, given the fact that Filipino Muslims are not by nature inclined to extremist action, “but we won’t lose anything by tightening security. It’s best to be extra cautious,” he added, speaking in Filipino. Police commandos have been guarding the US embassy on Roxas Boulevard round the clock since September 1
As for possible attacks against Filipino Christians in the Mideast, Binay does not see the situation reaching that level yet because the protests are directed against America, where the film was produced. The US government has distanced itself from the independent producer of the film, and tried—but failed—to get Google to take out the excerpts of the troubling film from the Internet.
Binay recalled that even at the height of the violence accompanying the ouster of Moamar Gadhafi in Libya, “many Filipinos were texting and asking if they should leave,” but noted that many of them are professionals like nurses and engineers whose services are valued by their employers, and may be expected therefore to have better security arrangements provided by these employers.
OFWs advised to take extra caution
Amid escalating protests by Muslims in the Middle East against the movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’, an overseas Filipino migrants group nonetheless urged fellow OFWs in Yemen, Libya, and Egypt to stay clear of protesting crowds.
Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said in view of the escalating protests in Libya, Egypt and lately in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, at various US diplomatic posts in the Middle East, it is necessary for all OFWs working in those countries to take necessary precautions and advise to limit unnecessary movements within these countries.
“To emphasize the need to be safe and to secure ourselves from harm and violent acts, we strongly urge our fellow OFWs to stay clear of protesting crowds especially near the diplomatic posts of the US and similar establishments as targets of massive protests,” Monterona added.
Monterona added that based on their initial assessment, the Muslim protests may snowball to other middle eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE where there are large concentrations of OFWs.
“Once again, we strongly advised our fellow Filipinos in the Middle East to be respectful of the host government state religion and their symbols,” said Monterona, adding that Filipinos abroad must refrain from maligning any religion and their prophets.
Monterona admitted that he has not yet viewed in full the movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’, but added, “Our Muslim brothers won’t rise up in arms for nothing. Certainly, the movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’ has done wrong or maliciously conveyed something” that has incited protests against the work of “some war-monger US propagandists.”
Monterona said their “Sagip Migrante” evacuation and assistance program is reactivated to serve and provide aid to OFWs who may need assistance amid the escalating Muslim protests in the Middle East.