By Gloria Jane Baylon
MANILA, Aug. 27 Some 2,000 Filipino workers currently in U.S. military bases and facilities in Iraq could stay in that war-torn country until their contracts expire and if their safety and eventual repatriation are guaranteed by their employers.
But the Philippines' current total ban against the deployment of Filipino workers to Iraq remains.
This high-level decision on how supposedly banned Filipino workers in Iraq are to be handled was reached by a governmental Inter-agency Task Force in Manila, following observations by Special Envoy to the Middle East Roy Cimatu.
The decision had been forwarded to the concerned U.S. authorities, through the Philippine embassies in Washington and Baghdad, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Thursday.
Cimatu was in and out of Iraq in the past weeks, against the backdrop of the first-phase withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by August 29 next week.
Following this policy of the administration of President Barack Obama, American job contractors have been directed to take stock of their workplaces, including their employment of Filipinos and Nepalese nationals who are banned by their respective countries from being in Iraq.
Philippine passports are stamped Not Valid for Travel to Iraq because of the high security risk there as the U.S. engages in anti-terrorism operations.
A July 20 memorandum of the U.S. Central Contracting Command (CENTCOM) in Iraq had given work contractors until August 9 for the prompt repatriation of their Filipino workers out of Iraq, citing the latter's presence as contrary to the laws of the U.S., Iraq and the Philippines.
Heeding Cimatu's assessment, the Task Force decided that instead of repatriating the workers, albeit against their will, they were allowed to stay with guarantees from employers who were just too willing to retain them.
DFA said the decision could be considered compliant with the memorandum signed by Col. Richard Nolan, senior contracting officer in Iraq of CENTCOM.
Upon the approval of the high-level inter-agency committee mandated to assess the security situation of and ensure the safety and welfare of Filipino workers in Iraq, Filipino workers in U.S. military facilities may continue working there until their contracts expire, DFA said.
Its a win-win situation for Filipinos who preferred to continue despite the risks and to their employer-contractors who saw a dire need for them, according to a DFA source.
The decision has the effect of 'legitimating' their stay, if only for a short while, despite the deployment ban," another DFA source noted.
Given that scenario, Cimatus mission had been quite difficult, the source said. Add to this the workers hesitance to leave Iraq because of the good pay and limited job opportunities in the Philippines, they are willing to face the risk, the source added.
Cimatu could not be contacted, but it is reasonable to deduce that he figured out the 2,000 after meetings in Iraq with contractors, among others.
Sources said that about 10,000 Filipinos were discovered to have been left behind in Iraq by their previous employers, known as 'jumpers', at various contractor-controlled camps throughout Iraq.
But with only about 2,000 workers 'legitimated' by the Task Force, it is not clear from DFA what happened to the rest.
DFA continued: According to the task force, Filipino workers currently employed by the U.S. government or their subcontractors inside U.S. military bases and facilities will be allowed to continue working in Iraq on the condition that their safety is assured and there will be guaranteed repatriation to the Philippines at the end of their engagement.
Aside from DFA, other agencies in the Task Force are the Department of Labor and Employment, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and the Office of the Executive Secretary. (PNA)