Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz yesterday returned to the familiar, reiterating that the DOLE adheres closely to “one country team approach” policy to promptly and efficiently serve overseas Filipino workers and their families in case of war, rebellion, riots, natural disasters, pandemics and other public health emergencies.
In her message during the signing of the Joint Manual of Operations in Providing Assistance to Migrant Workers and Other Filipinos Overseas, Baldoz said that as DOLE Secretary, she is very insistent and consistent that all DOLE officials and employees posted overseas hew and follow closely the “one country team approach”.
“Under the ‘one country team approach’, all officials, representatives, and employees of government posted overseas must act and behave as one team with a mission, under the leadership of the head of the Post, who is either the Ambassador or the Consul General,” she said.
She explained it is under this ‘one country team approach’ that the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Labor and Employment, Social Welfare and Development, and Health, as well as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, have drawn up a unified contingency plan that will safeguard overseas Filipinos in case of crises and other imminent danger.
The unified contingency plan is one of the basic features of the Joint Manual which Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario; Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman; represented by Undersecretary Parisya Taraji; Health Secretary Janette Loreto-Garin; represented by Dir. Maylene Beltran; OWWA chief Rebecca J. Calzado; POEA chief Hans Leo J. Cacdac; and Secretary Baldoz signed at the Blas F. Ople Hall of the DOLE in Intramuros, Manila.
Under the Joint Manual, every Post shall have a contingency plan which it needs to update every six months, or as the need arises. The contingency plan shall answer the need for the evacuation of Filipinos to safety zones for temporary relocation, or until their repatriation to the Philippines. It shall contain, among others, a profile of the country; political and security situation; current political climate, including threats to political stability; data and profile of the Filipino community; area coordinators with contact information; implementation details of the plan; relocation and evacuation centers; exit points and alternate evacuation routes; composition of the Crisis Management and Security Committee, including contact information of Post’s officials and personnel; support network; registration system; resource inventory; and budget requirements.
The Crisis Management and Security Committee (CMSC) shall be headed by the Ambassador or Consul General, or next highest ranking officer; and the Labor Attaché, Assistant Labor Attaché, Welfare Officer, SWATT/SSA, Police Attaché, Military Attaché, Political Officers and the Assistance to National Unit (ATNU) Head, as members. The CMSC, in times of emergencies, shall be augmented by a Rapid Response Team (RRT) from the Philippines which shall be composed of officers from the DFA, PNP, DND, DOLE, POEA, OWAA, DOH, and DSWD.
The CMSC’s and RRT’s roles and functions are to update and maintain a Masterlist/Database of all Filipino nationals in the host country; gather intelligence and provide ground-based, independent, and credible assessment of the political and security situation in the host country; assist in the updating and implementation of evacuation plans for Filipino nationals; assist in the negotiations with employers and recruitment agencies for the release of OFWs; and assist the Post in locating Filipino nationals and relocating them to safer and more secure area.
The Joint Manual reiterates the existing alert levels on which travel bans/advisories are based and in accordance with established protocols. It adopts the alert levels with their respective indicators and deployment status, as follows:
• Alert Level 1 or precautionary phase. Issued when there are valid signs of internal disturbance, instability, and/or external threat to the host country. In this instance, Filipinos are alerted to take necessary precautions.
• Alert Level 2 or restriction phase. Issued if there are threats to the life, security and property of Filipinos arising from internal disturbance, instability, and/external threat. Filipinos are instructed to restrict non-essential movements, avoid public places, and prepare for evacuation. In this instance, the DOLE only allows returning OFWs, with existing employment contracts, or a group of OFWs under special circumstances, to go back to their host country.
• Alert Level 3 or voluntary repatriation. Issued when violent disturbances or external aggression occur in a limited area. In this instance, overseas Filipinos are enjoined to return to the Philippines upon employers’, or if not possible, government’s expense. The DOLE shall impose absolute deployment ban.
• Alert Level 4, or mandatory repatriation. Issued when there is a large scale internal conflict or full blown external attack. During this event, the Philippine Government shall undertake mandatory evacuation procedures and the DFA in consultation with the DOH, may impose crisis alert level in times of pandemics and other medical hazards.
“The repatriation of overseas Filipinos in times of civil unrest, war, natural disasters and pandemics, will be guided by the contingency plan developed by each Post. In cases of pandemics, the DFA shall consult with the DOH to ensure adherence to the International Health Regulation (IHR) protocol,” Baldoz said, adding:
“One of the novel strategies adopted in the Joint Manual is that the official premises of the Post, including the official residence, may be used as a safe haven or relocation center during a crisis.”