MANILA, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the deployment of two battalions to the Middle East to help repatriate thousands of Filipinos working there amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Wednesday.
Lorenzana said Duterte's idea is to send the soldiers in the Middle East not to fight but to help protect the Filipinos especially those based in Iran and Iraq.
"We are still in the planning stage. We are still preparing the troops while (the Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary) Teodoro Locsin is coordinating with the governments of Iran and Iraq on the documents needed to allow the entry of the troops," Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana said the Philippines plans to bring in ships and airplanes to fetch the Filipinos who wish to return to the Philippines. "We need to know where our planes can land and our ships can dock, the refueling, the refurbishment and the like. Those things are needed to be arranged," he added.
However, he said those Filipinos who are based in Libya will also be likely repatriated because of the ongoing conflict in that country. "The focus is Iran, Iraq and Libya," he said.
The Philippine government said there are an estimated 1,184 Filipinos based in Iran and 2,191 Filipinos in Iraq.
However, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said in a news conference that the number could be more because of the presence of undocumented Filipinos who went to those countries illegally.
Filipinos based in Lebanon will also be forcibly evacuated, Bello added.
Already, the Philippines said on Wednesday that it is imposing a mandatory evacuation of Filipinos in Iraq amid increasing tensions in the Middle East.
"As a result of the government's coordination meetings on the situation in the Middle East in the past few days, the alert level in entire Iraq has been raised to 4 calling for mandatory evacuation," Philippine Foreign Assistant Secretary Eduardo Menez said in a brief statement.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) earlier said that Iraq is home to 450 undocumented and 1,190 documented Filipinos. More than half are found in the relatively safer Kurdistan region and around 847 in the Baghdad area.
Manila has yet to issue on whether there were any Filipino casualties in the attack.