Stuck in Iraq and a hard place

In a memorandum dated July 20, 2010, United States Colonel Richard Nolan of the Central Command’s Contracting Command, has ordered all contractors inside Iraq to send home all workers in their employ who came from countries that prohibits work and travel to Iraq.

Nolan cited an incident in the past weeks wherein eight such workers – “third country nationals” according to his memo – were discovered to have been abandoned by their employers at various contractor controlled camps across Iraq.

“Employing individuals with passports which state “not valid in Iraq” violates both host nation and third country laws. CENTCOM is currently aware that the Philippine and the Nepalese Governments prohibit its citizens from traveling to Iraq. There may be other countries. It is the contractor’s responsibility that it is not employing people from countries prohibited from entry to Iraq” said Nolan in his memo.

He then gave all contractors 20 days to ensure that their employees comply with both US and international laws and that they understand their redeployment obligations under their contract.

The sudden pull-out order resurrected calls for the government to consider lifting its deployment ban. The Philippines imposed the ban on 2004 after the kidnapping of Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz by Iraqi militants.

Emmanuel Geslani, consultant to the country’s major recruitment agencies, has urged the Aquino administration to “partially lift” the ban if only to allow those who are already employed in Iraq to continue with their work.

“It would be a nightmare for the new administration”,  Geslani said if an estimated 15,000 Filipino workers are repatriated back to the country jobless.

Quite a number of Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) netizens seem to agree with Geslani’s assessment. ABS-CBN News, which carried the story on the pull-out order, received several comments from OFWs, who appears to be either currently in Iraq or has relatives working in Iraq, supporting the call to lift the ban.

anongsaymo, a Certified Public Accountant working in another warzone, Afghanistan (deployment there is also banned by the government by the way), minced no words when he commented:

It is never a crime to work in a dangerous place, so you could feed yourself and your family, when your own country cannot provide jobs for its own people.

If the ban continues, and you send 15,000 Pinoys home and jobless, you can now call yourselves IRRESPONSIBLE people, IRRESPONSIBLE leaders, IRRESPONSIBLE fathers and mothers of this country who do not realize the consequences, the number of mouths who might not get fed, and the number of children who will not get to school.

Whoever is/are behind this, probably guys who rides a Mercedes, sits in a big leather chair with a shiny wooden table with the airconditioning on, and his/her secretary to assist, they must have got big guts to ban us when they cannot even provide good paying jobs for their people! So lift the ban! Let us work for ourselves and for our family, coz it is never your asses that are in the battlefield, it’s ours!

You dont even have a consulate! Coz the truth is you dont really care!

bluedennis7789, meanwhile, couldn’t help but express his disappointment with the pull-out order and the continuing deployment ban. He said his father is an OFW in Iraq for six years already and that his family is relying solely on his father’s earnings.

I am deeply saddened by this news. I already knew it last Friday when my father called me that he and other Filipino workers would be sent back here in the Philippines. My father stayed there for almost 6 straight years already. I was able to graduate in college because of him. I am currently working but still I cannot sustain the expenses of our family. We are much depending on my father. That is why we are shocked by the news. I am sure a lot of families feel the same way. Every time I ask my father on what is the situation there he would always say that he is very safe there. I think his 6 straight years’ experience there is enough to say that the Filipinos are doing well there despite the fact that Iraq is not yet at peace. I am suggesting the government to lift the ban for at least 3 months. It is because it is shocking news and the families here are not ready for that kind of news. Maybe, it would ease the burden of the families if the government can talk with the US government to allow for at least 3 months suspension of the ban. If only I am thinking of myself I would rather want my father go home because I missed him so much but then I think of what the future awaits. My father is already 46 years old and I think it would be difficult for him to find another job. I have younger siblings who are still studying and my family will be suffering because of this situation.


Some OFWs couldn’t contain their disdain at the Philippine government’s stance on the brewing crisis. The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has reportedly welcomed the US army’s decision to send home OFWs currently in Iraq.  The official has also ruled out the possibility of lifting the ban saying that the situation in Iraq is still “dangerous.”

“We’ve always asked [US and other countries] to respect our ban. We have always asked them to please help us because delikado nga sa Iraq (it’s dangerous in Iraq). They’ve never been heeded until now, when they’re winding down their operations,” DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos said.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), meanwhile, has assured those who will be displaced a start-up capital loan of P10,000.00 and alternative job postings in another country.

But OFW tag-hirap had this to say: Napaka imposible po!

uuwi po kami at bibigyan nyo kami ng trabaho? yung mga nandyan nga po sa pilipinas walang trabaho eh. at kung magkakaroon man ng trabaho para samin po diyan, masasahuran nyo po ba kami ng tulad ng sinasahod namin dito? mabibigyan nyo ba kami ng tirahan na libre, pagkain na libre? umuwi nalang kami para magnegosyo? kaya nga po kami andito para magipon ng pang negosyo. kasi alam namin na di naman pang-habang buhay dito ang trabaho, ang habol lang po namin ay ang pagkakataon na kumita ng pera na pang nenegosyo rin po namin dyan sa pinas pagbalik namin.

yun po ang katotohanan. bibigyan po ng trabaho talaga? lahat kami? magpakatotoo po tayo. wag po panay sulat sa hangin.

Surprise! Nepal lifts ban

But while the Philippines continues to stand pat on its policy to prohibit Filipinos from traveling to Iraq, the Nepalese government has moved to lift the ban on their nationals entering the country.

Upon hearing the news of the US army’s pull-out order, Nepalese Foreign secretary Madan Kumar Bhattarai, based on reports, immediately summoned US ambassador to Nepal Scott H DeLisi to discuss the situation, as more than 30,000 Nepali workers are currently staying “illegally” inside Iraq.

And after assurances were made by the US that they will retain the Nepali workers in spite of the pull-out order, Nepal decided to lift its six year old deployment ban. To recall, Nepal banned its citizens from entering Iraq after 12 Nepalis were executed by radical militants in August 2004.

Stuck in Iraq and a hard place

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has yet to speak on this issue that stands to affect more than 15,000 Filipinos in Iraq, not to mention the thousands more in the country who survive on their toils.

That the pull-out order has been in effect for more than a week, the Aquino administration’s silence towards the looming crisis is downright disturbing. Thousands of our breadwinner kababayans there stand to lose their jobs in a matter of weeks and yet not a whimper of reply from the Malacanang.

Its deafening silence, however, betrays the reprehensible arrogance on the part of the Aquino administration most especially those in the labor and foreign affairs departments. That they even lauded the US’s move despite the alarming level of unemployment in the country boggles the mind and speaks volumes of their utter indifference to the affected OFWs’ plight and that of their families.

It is as if they have anything sustainable and long-term to offer the 15,000 souls that are set to be sent back to the country. It is not surprising that their paltry tender of P10,000 start-up capital and job slots in Qatar or elsewhere were outrightly rejected and was even ridiculed by the OFWs themselves.

But then again, it is most certain that the snowballing clamor for the government to lift the deployment ban, aggravated further by Nepal’s decision to lift theirs, is having Philippine labor and foreign affairs officials scratching their heads. They are stuck between Iraq and a hard place, literally.

But the government has no one to blame but themselves.

The farcity of the RP deployment ban

We have to understand that the so-called ‘deployment ban’ was nothing more than a farce, a knee-jerk reaction by the Arroyo government to the Angelo dela Cruz crisis back in 2004. It was imposed by the the Arroyo regime to douse cold water to the growing international pressure for it to pull-out the Filipino armed contingent in Iraq in exchange for the life of dela Cruz.

When the US invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003, former President Gloria Arroyo was among the very first world leaders to join the US led Coalition of the Willing. It subsequently committed Filipino boots on the ground to aid the US in its unjust and illegal war of aggression against the Iraqi people.

Also, it must be noted that the Arroyo government imposed the ban because of its desperation to portray an image among the Filipino people that it was on top of the situation amid extreme pressure from Washington for Arroyo not to even consider pulling-out Filipino troops in Iraq.

The deployment ban’s farcity was immediately validated when the number of Filipinos in Iraq continued to rise despite the standing government policy.

It would be remembered that when dela Cruz was kidnapped in Iraq on July 8, 2004, Filipinos there numbered only at 4,000. But when another OFW, Roberto Tarongoy, was kidnapped a year later, the number increased two-fold!

And so plenty more have either been killed, maimed and injured inside the war zones of Iraq in the years that followed. Recently, after the US decided finally to “heed” the Philippine’s deployment ban according to DFA’s Conejos, we now have 15,000 Filipinos braving bullets, bombs and abductions on a daily basis in Iraq!

Filipinos have managed to sneak into Iraq despite the stamps on their passports that say “Not valid to Iraq” and the government couldn’t care less. All they are concerned about are the moneys the OFWs continue to pour in the country in the form of their remittances. Whether the dollars came from the sweltering plantations in Sabah, Malaysia, or inside Iraq’s constantly bombarded Green Zone, it doesn’t matter. So long as it continues to come in to buoy our ever sinking economy afloat.

In short, the deployment ban, which DFA’s Conejos so ridiculously prides himself with, is just ink in one’s passport and nothing more.

So Filipinos should not fall into the trap and engage in the fruitless debate on whether to lift the ban or not.

We should focus on the heart of the issue: the sad fact that there are 15,000 Filipinos who are moving heaven and earth as we speak just so they can stay longer in war torn Iraq.  Hindi baleng kahit kalahati ng katawan nila sa Iraq ay nasa hukay na dahil sa peligro, basta’t may maipadala lang na pera para sa pamilyang umaasa sa Pilipinas.

Our struggling kababayans in Iraq mirror the real state of the nation today. We truly are stuck in Iraq and a hard place – a situation where choosing to risk death in a far away war zone becomes a wiser decision than slugging it out in a place where breakfast, lunch and dinner is a constant unwinnable battle for the majority of the people.