MANILA- President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday the government could pay for the airfare of all Filipino migrants in the Middle East who want to return to the Philippines amid tensions between the United States and Iran.
Duterte, who earlier ordered the mandatory evacuation of Filipinos in Iran and Iraq, told ABS-CBN News in an exclusive interview that he wanted government to "immediately" secure the safety of Filipinos in the said countries.
"We have the money to answer for all of their airfare," he told broadcaster Ted Failon.
The Department of Budget and Management earlier assured the public that the Philippine government has enough funds under the 2020 national budget for the repatriation of Filipino migrants from the Middle East.
Around P1.8 billion has been allocated in the budget for the repatriation of Filipino workers, Budget Assistant Secretary Rolando Toledo said Wednesday.
Manila is continuing efforts to evacuate Filipinos in Tehran, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said Thursday even as tensions between Iran and United States simmered down.
Iran said it had concluded its "proportionate" retaliation against the US after launching 22 ballistic missiles against bases in Iraq that hosted American and foreign troops on Wednesday.
The attack was a calibrated response to the killing of a top Iranian general in a US airstrike on Jan. 3.
On Friday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the government could lease a cruise ship if needed to boost evacuation efforts in the Middle East.
"Ang napag-usapan namin sa Gabinete, if needed, we might have to charter a cruise vessel para mas malaki," Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles told reporters in Malacañang Friday.
(The Cabinet has discussed that we might need to charter a cruise vessel since it's bigger.)
USE WHAT IS AVAILABLE
Duterte said he also ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to use all of its available assets in the evacuation of Filipinos who might get caught in the possible crossfire.
"In times of crisis, you get to have more faster reaction if you request the military to do it," the President said.
The President said he gave orders to prioritize Filipinos who are staying in areas where there is "great danger" in the evacuation process.
"For the resources, I tasked the military under [Defense Sec. Delfin] Lorenzana to make account or take stab of what we have, what are available that can be sent immediately like air assets and to make sure that we can lease airplanes in numbers enough to respond to the number of Filipinos wanting to go home," he added.
Duterte has expressed fears for the safety of his countrymen in the Middle East and asked Congress to hold a special session to discuss the tensions between Tehran and Washington.