Palace Forms High-Level Crisis Team
To Assist Filipinos Abroad
Malacañang has created a high-level team to strengthen the government’s response mechanism for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) needing help in times of political conflict and natural disasters in their host countries.
According to Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr., President Benigno Aquino III signed last week, April 6 Executive Order No. 34 to help government agencies address in a timely manner the plight of OFWs caught in crises abroad.
"Natural disasters, civil unrest, armed conflicts and similar crises in foreign countries expose overseas Filipinos to immediate hazards and risks," Ochoa explained.
"So, it is only imperative that we establish a measure and a system that would ensure the safety and welfare of our kababayans abroad."
EO 34 establishes the Overseas Preparedness and Response Team (OPRT) under the Office of the President and replaces the Presidential Middle East Preparedness Committee (PMEPC), which was created under Executive Order No. 159 in 2002 to deal with the evacuation of thousands of Filipino workers in the Middle East at the height of the Iraq crisis.
The recent natural disasters that struck Japan and New Zealand and the political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa underscored the need to expand the scope of the PMEPC and integrate agency policy plans for swift government response.
Under the EO, the OPRT is composed of the Executive Secretary as chairperson and the presidential adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers’ Concerns and secretaries of the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Labor and Employment, National Defense, Justice, the Interior and Local Government, and Budget and Management as members.
The high-level crisis team is tasked to draw up strategies and programs and formulate policies to appropriately respond to crisis situations affecting Filipinos abroad. It shall develop and adopt interactive operating arrangements among agencies to effect maximum coordination.
It may call upon any department or agency of the government or private sector and coordinate or seek bilateral and multilateral partners for assistance in the formulation and implementation of plans, programs and policies.
"There is a necessity for various government agencies that take the lead in addressing the concerns of overseas Filipinos to focus on their real and actual capabilities in the efficient and effective delivery of services and resources to the overseas Filipino workers, thereby insuring their safety and security especially in times of crisis," the EO provides.
The OPRT will also establish a pool of crisis management, technical experts and trained personnel from the OPRT member-agencies to form rapid reaction teams, which shall then be deployed to crisis-hit areas where there are significant concentration of Filipinos, upon the authorization of the panel.
The panel will also conduct periodic review and assessment to update individual contingency plans submitted by the Philippine embassies and consulates general for proper policy and operational guidance, as well as undertake threat and environmental scanning, to ensure the safety and protection of Filipinos abroad.
The OPRT is further tasked to formulate and review contingency plans for the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia, the Pacific, the Americas, and Europe every six months.
Additional personnel to reinforce Philippine foreign missions may be dispatched upon the permission of the OPRT for the duration of at least three months to ensure systematic repatriation and relocation activities, among others, the EO stated.
Aside from putting in place a monitoring mechanism to regularly gather and update information on the identities and locations of Filipinos in crisis-prone regions, the OPRT will also prepare a comprehensive communication plan to inform the public of the actions taken by the government.
The EO was reviewed and endorsed by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on OFW Concerns and the DFA, DOLE, DILG and DBM.
"We have likewise reviewed the relationship of the OPRT with other agencies which may be performing similar functions such as the DFA, DOLE and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. We have determined that the OPRT will not duplicate or overlap with the functions of said agencies. On the contrary, the creation of the OPRT is supposed to coordinate and streamline the efforts and actions of Philippine personnel abroad," Ochoa pointed out.
"It is in the national interest that the safety and welfare of Filipinos overseas be accorded primordial importance," he added. /MP