By William Casis

While welcoming the lowering of tension in the Middle East, Sen. Richard Gordon called for continued vigilance for overseas Filipino workers (OWFs) in the Middle East.

As this developed, Sen. Win Gatchalian urged the government to help turn displaced and returning OFWs into local “entrepinoys” by extending to them entrepreneurial programs.

“The situation simmered down but our people must still be on their toes as the Middle East is a volatile region and preparedness is necessary. Trump gave a tough but conciliatory speech which is why tensions in the region have subsided a bit but it does not mean that our people, our OFWs, could be lax. Our OFWs should stay away from trouble areas. They should be pro-active and protective of their welfare,” said Gordon.

Gordon also called on undocumented Filipinos in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, to take advantage of the diffused tension to go to the Philippine embassies and register, adding that embassies and consulates should have an updated list of Filipinos in their jurisdiction.

He also called on leaders of the powers-that-be to exercise more restraint and statesmanship in the interest of peace and the interest of their people and people all over the world, including migrant workers.

For his part, Gatchalian said latest  data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) show there are around 1.26 million Filipinos who are in the Middle East and may be affected in the event that the conflict between the United States and Iran spills over the entire region. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported that there are 1,190 documented and 450 undocumented Filipino workers in Iraq. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said that there are approximately 1,300 Filipinos in Iran.

Gatchalian said the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and OWWA should encourage and assist repatriated Filipinos to set up their own micro-, small- or medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) through OWWA’s OFW Enterprise Development and Loan Program (OFW-EDLP). 

The said program entitles active and non-active OWWA members to avail a minimum of PHP100,000 up to a maximum of PHP2 million worth of loans.

Gatchalian also took note of the ‘Balik-Pinas! Balik-Hanapbuhay Program’ under OWWA’s Reintegration Program which provides immediate relief to active or non-active members who were displaced from their jobs due to war and political conflicts in host countries.

“Instead of focusing only on where to send our displaced OFWs, we should also give them an alternative to overseas employment, one of which is helping them become entrepreneurs in their own country,” Gatchalian said.

“When we help our OFWs start their own businesses, we are not only helping them get a good and decent livelihood in their own country, they can also provide job opportunities for other Filipinos as well,” he added.