Philippines suspends OFW deployment to Qatar

Reuters file photo of Qatar flag

MANILA, Philippines – Alarmed by the worst diplomatic crisis to hit the Gulf Arab states in decades, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III during a press conference on Tuesday announced the suspension of deployment of Filipino workers to Qatar.

Bello said the deployment ban would just be temporary as the government assesses the impact of the crisis on the Philippines and its workers. He added that the suspension would not affect Filipino workers with existing contracts to work in Qatar.

Meanwhile, other Philippine officials took turns in allaying fears of Filipinos working in Qatar over the negative effects on them of the decision of several Arab nations to break ties with the oil-rich country.

“Filipino travelers are advised to consult their travel agents to ensure unhampered travel arrangements,” said Philippine ambassador to Doha Alan L. Timbayan in a June 5 advisory after Saudi Arabia said it would close borders, severing land, sea and air contact with Qatar.

“The Philippine Embassy in Doha calls on all Filipinos in Qatar to remain calm and exercise prudence as well closely monitor the situation,” added Timbayan.

Filipino workers make up the fourth biggest migrant population in Qatar and are currently estimated to number around 270,000.

Bahrain, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Libya, and the Maldives also decided to break off its ties with Qatar after the nations accused the tiny peninsula of destabilizing the region by supporting terrorist and sectarian groups such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Qatar denied the allegation. A June 5 statement from the Doha Information Office said the country “has been exposed to an instigation campaign based on allegations that amounted to absolute fabrications, which proves that there are premeditated intentions to cause damage to the State.”

It said “Qatar is an active member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, committed to its Charter, respects the sovereignty of other countries and does not interfere in their internal affairs, and carries out its duties in combating terrorism and extremism.”

The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said these measures taken against the State of Qatar “will not affect the normal course of life of the citizens and residents of the State and that the Qatari Government will take all necessary measures to ensure this and to thwart attempts to influence and harm the Qatari society and economy.”

Philippine presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella on Tuesday said the Qatar diplomatic crisis “may have some ripple effects on our overseas Filipino workers.”

He said “concerned government agencies are now looking into the matter and will extent some assistance and support.”

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday said his office was already monitoring the situation in the Middle East.

“We take it seriously. We live in an interconnected world so ang rivalries at friendship ng mga bansa may epekto sa atin [the rivalries and friendship of countries have an effect on us],” the DFA chief added.

On Tuesday, June 6, Sen. Cynthia Villar urged Filipino workers in Qatar “to keep calm and get in touch with the Philippine Embassy in Doha on any concerns arising from the diplomatic row between Qatar and other Gulf states.”

“Qatar is an oil-producing country with sufficient financial resources to look after its citizens and their workers. Many OFWs are happy in Qatar because of their good rapport with their employers,” said Villar.

The lawmaker also urged the DOLE and the Department of Foreign Affairs to put together a contingency plan that would address concerns regarding potential food shortages, limited air, land and sea travel, as well as escalating costs of living that would affect OFWs in Qatar and their families.

“We also need to consider the Filipinos working for Qatari-owned companies in the Philippines and elsewhere such as Qatar Airways, which is the second biggest air carrier in the Gulf region. A prolonged diplomatic crisis would not be favorable to the profitability of these companies,” she said.

Also, Villar said the government should “strengthen” its “reintegration program for OFWs so that they can plan ahead because there really is no place like home.”

Meanwhile, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco said on Tuesday he could not yet tell the impact of Qatar’s diplomatic crisis on on the Filipinos working in the country as the issue “is still developing.”

“We’re trying to get reports from the field. But you know in previous incidence of some trouble in certain areas of the Mideast, Filipino workers there would transfer to other countries within the area…to find new jobs. So we’ll have to see if and what extent the effect will be,” he said.