POSTSCRIPT / January 5, 2020 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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OFWs in Iraq told to be ready to move

AS the world braces for Iran’s “severe retaliation” for the Friday assassination of its top military commander Qassem Soleimani, Filipinos in Iraq, where he was killed in a precision US airstrike, have been advised to prepare for possible evacuation.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei threatened to avenge Soleimani’s murder ordered by US President Trump, potentially adding fire to the conflict in the Gulf and drawing into hostilities the allies of the US and Iran in a proxy war in Iraq.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila advised after the attack: “The crisis alert level for all areas in Iraq is Alert Level 3 (Voluntary Repatriation) except for the Iraqi Kurdistan region which remains under Alert Level 1 (Precautionary Phase).

Alert Level 3 is issued where there are violent disturbances or external aggressions in a limited area where Filipinos are advised to return home. Alert Level 4 (Evacuation/Mandatory Repatriation) is issued when a large-scale internal conflict or full-blown external attack occurs.

Assistant Secretary Ed Menez said Filipinos in Iraq are urged to coordinate with the Philippine embassy in Baghdad and their employers in case escalating tension requires mandatory evacuation. He said a Rapid Response Team would be there to help if needed.

In 2012, there were an estimated 10,000 Filipinos in Iraq despite restrictions in the travel and deployment of Filipino workers in the stricken areas.

Menez added that fighting in Iran itself was unlikely. The flareup has been in Iraq where militants attacked the US embassy, prompting reaction that killed Soleimani and the deputy chief of Hashed al-Shaabi in a convoy near the Baghdad international airport.

The Hashed, an Iraqi paramilitary force, is a network of mostly-Shiite militias, many of whom have close links to Tehran but which have been absorbed into Iraq’s security forces.

The US embassy in Baghdad has urged all Americans to leave Iraq immediately even as Americans working in southern oil fields were being evacuated.

The Pentagon said President Trump ordered Soleimani’s killing after a pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy. After Soleimani was taken down, Trump tweeted an image of the American flag without comment. Later he said Soleimani should have been killed years ago,

The Pentagon said Soleimani had been “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

Iran-US relations have deteriorated since Washington pulled out of the landmark nuclear deal with Tehran in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran to cut off its oil exports. The fresh flareup has sent crude prices soaring.

The strike has also shown what President Trump, facing an election in November, is prepared to do in a foreign conflict at the risk of exacerbating regional hostilities.

 Words of comfort for the sick

PRESIDENT Duterte, who has been complaining lately of being sick and fatigued, may find a measure of comfort in a message of Pope Francis whose visit to Manila in January 2015 had caught his critical attention.

In his message for the 28th World Day of the Sick signed on Jan. 3, the Pope repeated Christ’s call in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

The Pontiff continued: “In Him, you will find strength to face all the worries and questions that assail you…. Life must be welcomed, protected, respected and served from its beginning to its end: both human reason and faith in God, the author of life, require this.”

World Day is held annually on Feb. 11, the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, known for her healing powers and whose grotto in Lourdes, France, is visited by throngs of believers.

Come to think of it, Duterte’s daughter Kitty (Veronica), may want to convince her father to take a break and go on a private trip, incognito, to Lourdes.

The 74-year-old President has been complaining of a number of afflictions that have slowed him down, sometimes preventing him from attending functions normally keynoted or led by the president.

Reflecting on Matthew’s Gospel passage, Francis said: “These words of Christ express the solidarity of the Son of Man with all those who are hurt and afflicted.

“How many people suffer in both body and soul!… Jesus urges everyone to draw near to Him – ‘Come to me!’ – and He promises them comfort and repose.”

On this World Day of the Sick, the Pope said, Jesus repeats these words to the sick, the oppressed, and the poor.

May they realize, he added, that Jesus “does not make demands of those who endure situations of frailty, suffering and weakness, but offers His mercy and His comforting presence.”

The Pope cited how Jesus looks at a “wounded humanity” with eyes “that gaze into the heart of each person.” That gaze is not one of indifference, he said, but one which embraces “people in their entirety, each person in his or her health condition.”

He said Jesus knows how one suffers since He Himself “became frail, endured human suffering and received comfort from His Father.”

Appealing to all who are ill, he said: “your sickness makes you in a particular way one of those ‘who labor and are burdened,’ and thus attract the eyes and heart of Jesus.”

“In Him you will find light to brighten your darkest moments and hope to soothe your distress,” he said. “In Him, you will find strength to face all the worries and questions that assail you during this ‘dark night’ of body and soul.”

Remembering those who have no access to medical care due to poverty and war, the Pope entrusted to “the Blessed Virgin Mary, Health of the Sick” all those “who bear the burden of illness, along with their families and all healthcare workers.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 5, 2020)

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