MANILA – Filipinos in hardship areas, such as Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, can now come home to the Philippines following the approval of a proposal that would allow them to visit their loved ones and still return to their jobs, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has announced.
In a statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said he approved the proposal of the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad to allow Filipinos working in Iraq to be covered by the Balik Manggagawa program as long as their employers can guarantee their safety and security.
“After more than three years of waiting, our kababayans in Iraq will now have the opportunity to be reunited with their families in the Philippines without having to worry about not being able to return to their jobs in Baghdad, Basra, and other safe locations there,” he said after signing the letter now up for Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III’s approval.
Cayetano said Bello had expressed his “full support” for the selective Balik Manggagawa coverage for Filipinos in Iraq when he discussed it with him in Manila a few weeks ago.
Per the agency, the move is expected to benefit some of the estimated 1,000 Filipinos working in Baghdad, Basra and other areas who, unlike workers in Afghanistan and Libya, have not been able to return to the Philippines since 2014.
Manila maintains Crisis Alert Level IV or mandatory repatriation in Iraq and has suspended deployment of new workers in the area after the Islamic State captured Mosul and other key cities and threatened to overrun Baghdad and Erbil.
“Our decision to approve the request of our kababayans in Iraq is based largely on humanitarian grounds and is similar to what has been granted to our other kababayans working in Afghanistan and Libya,” Cayetano said.
He, however, clarified that the move does not lift the current ban on the deployment of new workers nor will it lower the current alert level for Iraq.
In approving the recommendation, the official said he took note of the reports not just of the Embassy but also of the assessment team from the Office of Migrant Workers Affairs and the Office of Middle East and Africa Affairs on the improved security situation in Baghdad and other parts of the country as a result of the recent victories by the Iraqi Government against the Islamic State.
Cayetano said the proposed exemption would cover Filipinos registered with the Embassy in Baghdad and those who are employed by Filipino, foreign and Iraqi companies with existing contracts with the Iraqi government, the United States government and those of member-states of the International Coalition, the United Nations, and other international and non-government organizations.
It will also cover those employed as private staff by foreign diplomats assigned in Baghdad and ranking officials of the Iraqi government provided that such employers have no pending labor-related cases as certified by the Philippine Embassy.
According to Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Elmer Cato, one of the conditions before a Filipino can avail himself of Balik Manggagawa coverage is for his employer to bring him to the nearest airport and back to their premises using secured non-public transportation.
Filipino workers who meet these requirements must submit an official letter from the employer to the Embassy containing relevant information about the employee requesting that he/she be included in the coverage of the Balik Manggagawa Program, along with the following documents:
• Signed employment contract in English;
• Employee and next of kin information sheet;
• Copy of Employee’s passport and iqama;
• Certificate from Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that employer has been paying employee’s social security contributions;
• Certificate of no pending labor-related case from the Embassy;
• Certificate of undertaking for demobilization, evacuation and repatriation of Filipino employee and provision of direct and secured transportation from working premises to or from the nearest airport;
• Payment of certification, authentication, and other fees.
The Embassy shall provide the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, on a regular basis, the list of Filipino workers who have applied for Balik Manggagawa coverage.
In order to travel back to Iraq, Filipino workers covered by the exemption are required to submit to the POEA a certificate of exemption from the Embassy and copies of the other requirements for the issuance of an Overseas Employment Certificates.