MALACAÑANG should be careful not to give a military color to the evacuation of Filipino workers in Middle East areas where the United States and Iran may just blunder into a fast and furious war where no one wins.
President Duterte may have done just that in his Jan. 3 meeting with military and police top brass wherein he assigned to the armed forces the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers caught in the conflict areas.
While we are aware of the President’s increasingly heavy reliance on “his” soldiers, it seems that he has simplified the plight of distressed OFWs as a short-term military situation best given to the armed forces to handle.
We were therefore heartened to read recent tweets of Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. saying: “Any and all evacuation(s) from Middle East is carried out by (ambassadors) and diplomatic staff of @DFAPHL—from taking in OFWs to caring for them to sending them off. These are the real heroes on the ground (because) they live & work there for the safety of the Filipino people.
“When asked at the Cabinet I said: No, @DFAPHL is not preparing for evacuations because it has always been ready to effect evacuations. Asked if I need more money, I said, NO. NO. NO. I have a budget and I’ll realign it if it means no one eats.”
The foreign office’s record includes the successful evacuation of OFWs from war-torn Libya and such places as Iraq after the US invaded that country in 2003, then under Saddam Hussein, on the pretext that he was poised to unleash weapons of mass destruction.
Locsin recalled on Twitter: “Last year I shot down the idea to militarize our Tripoli embassy. That would only draw more fire down on Filipinos. We evacuate unarmed; no body armor if we can’t give all evacuees the same. Also sending foreign troops to foreign land is an act of war.
“Fortunately we have friendly powers committed to help rescue Filipinos in Tripoli. Despite the ceasefire the fighting continues. Still most Filipinos will stay for the paying jobs they won’t find at home and because they deeply care about their Libyan neighbors and patients.”
On the current US-Iran hostilities that could force repatriation of OFWs, Locsin said: “We got assurances from friendly powers bordering Middle East that they’re ready to help mass evacuation. That’s what friends are for. All that might now be moot with the deescalation but it is good to enough that in the unlikely happening these friendly powers have our back.
“I talked to the other Middle Eastern countries. Same thing: they won’t join any war on any side. Our 900,000 well paid OFWS in Saudi enjoy the same defense shield as the other foreign workers and Saudi nationals. So it is all or nothing.”
Whose side will the Philippines take if the conflict escalates? Duterte said days ago that he would be on the side of the US if Filipinos in the Middle East are harmed.
A longer-term and more encompassing approach to the recurring employment-related problem should be worked out. A big number of Filipinos leave home to look for work abroad and suffer the pain that separation from family brings. https://tinyurl.com/yhv35qah
• Taal breaks serenity in the lake
BREAKING its serene pose in its lake in Batangas, Taal volcano acted up Sunday – progressing in just five hours from alert Level 1 to a scary Level 4, throwing up pyroclastic matter and blowing ash to as far north as Central Luzon some 100 kilometers away.
Thousands were evacuated from lakeshore towns, Manila flights were suspended, and classes and office work cancelled in several places affected by the ashfall. Ten monitoring equipment of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology on the island have gone dead.
When steam triggered an explosion Sunday at Taal’s main crater at 2:30 p.m., sending plumes billowing, Phivolcs hoisted alert Level 2. In quick succession, the alert level was raised to 3 (at 4 p.m.) then to 4 (at 7:30 p.m.) – meaning a disastrous eruption was imminent.
Phivolcs raised the alert status of Taal to Level 4 after the volcano spewed ash and rocks a kilometer high. Yesterday, molten lava glowing in the darkness was spotted with the discharge.
Taal volcano island is a permanent danger zone. After Mayon volcano’s eruption in 1984, Phivolcs adopted a system of alert level numbering for each of six active volcanoes, namely Bulusan, Hibok-hibok, Kanlaon, Mayon, Taal and Pinatubo.
Before that, alerts simply described what events or phenomena to expect. Below are the current alert levels – specific for Taal — with their criteria and descriptions:
Level 1 — Low-level seismicity, fumarolic, other activity — Magmatic, tectonic or hydrothermal disturbance; no eruption imminent.
Level 2 — Low to moderate level of seismicity, persistence of local but unfelt earthquakes. Ground deformation measurements above baseline levels. Increased water and/or ground probe hole temperatures, increased bubbling at Crater Lake. — Probable magmatic intrusion; could eventually lead to an eruption.
Level 3 — Relatively high unrest manifested by seismic swarms including increasing occurrence of low frequency earthquakes and/or harmonic tremor (some events felt). Sudden or increasing changes in temperature or bubbling activity or radon gas emission or crater lake pH. Bulging of the edifice and fissuring may accompany seismicity. — If trend is one of increasing unrest, hazardous eruption is possible within days to weeks.
Level 4 — Intense unrest, continuing seismic swarms, including harmonic tremor and/or “low-frequency earthquakes” which are usually felt, profuse steaming along existing and perhaps new vents and fissures. — Hazardous eruption is possible within days.
Level 5 — Base surges accompanied by eruption columns or lava fountaining or lava flows. — Hazardous eruption in progress. Extreme hazards to communities west of the volcano and ashfalls on downwind sectors.