BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Filipino migrant workers in Qatar could face food supply woes if the situation in the country worsens, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said at a briefing on Tuesday, June 6.
Over accusations that it was supporting terrorists, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and other Middle East countries have suspended diplomatic relations with Qatar.
The countries accused Qatar of giving support to terrorist groups like the al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Qatar has denied the accusation.
There are about 140,000 documented Overseas Filipino Workers) currently working in Qatar.
Bello said that while the employment of the OFWs may not be affected by the current diplomatic situation between Qatar and the other Middle East nations, the Philippine government anticipates that the Pinoys will have problems with food supply.
“We are foreseeing a possible problem (like food supply). Qatar is not producing its own food. If anything happens, they run out of food. Our OFWs will be the first victims,” he said. Qater buys its food supplies from its Middle East neighbors.
While watching for developments, Bello said he had directed the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Qatar to beef up its food stock.
Manpower of the POLOs in Qatar and other Middle East countries have also been increased to address the concerns of the OFWs, according to the Labor secretary.
At the briefing, Bello announced that deployment of OFWs to Qatar has been suspended as the government assesses the situation .
Qatar-bound OFWs and those whose papers are being processed are covered by the suspension, said Bello.
Malacanang admits the current situation will affect the OFWs.
This will “have some ripple effects over our overseas Filipino workers,” said presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella in a statement.
To address problems of the OFWs that may spin out of the situation, concerned government agencies “are now looking at the matter and will extend other support and assistance to OFWs,” Abella said.
Qatar is one of three Middle East countries that President Rodrigo Duterte visited in April.
We have strong relations with Qatar, said Bello.