PHILIPPINES: U.S. Troubled Over Call for Filipino Workers to Leave Iraq

The United States is troubled by the Philippine government's attempts to persuade Filipino workers to leave Iraq. Their withdrawal from Iraq is expected to have an adverse impact on the operation of the camps since Filipinos make up the largest number of
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Philstar.com

The United States is troubled by the Philippine government's attempts to persuade Filipino workers to leave Iraq.

US officials in Manila have repeatedly aired their concerns over the repatriation of Filipinos working in military bases in Iraq, Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said Monday night.

But Romulo said he had told the US embassy officials that the priority of the Philippine government is the security of Filipino workers.

"We have to explain to them that our obligation is to our citizens," he said.

Romulo said the US cannot make the Philippines change its stand.

"We are a sovereign country, and we have to protect our citizens. That's the law. That's in the Constitution," he said.

The government has urged all Filipino workers in Iraq to avail of voluntary repatriation following the death of two Filipinos in two suspected militant attacks this month.

Records from the Department of Foreign Affairs showed that around 6,000 Filipinos still work in US military camps in Iraq.

Most of the workers provide non-military services as food servers and kitchen helpers to the troops.

Their withdrawal from Iraq is expected to have an adverse impact on the operation of the camps since Filipinos make up the largest number of foreign workers in the camps.

But recent events have shown that the threat to the lives of Filipino workers in Iraq has increased, Romulo said.

Two Filipino workers were killed in Iraq this month.

Marcelo Salazar was killed last April 14 while driving a US military vehicle along MSR Tampa, a road used exclusively by US and coalition forces that connects Baghdad to Southern Iraq.

Three days earlier, Rey Torres, who worked as a guard and a driver, was gunned down in Baghdad.

Salazar and Torres were both assigned to Camp Victory, a US military camp in Baghdad.

But the absence of any gunshot wounds on Salazar's body suggests he may have died in a vehicular accident, the Philippine embassy in Baghdad said.

Chargé d' Affaires Ricardo Endaya said he learned of Salazar's death only during his visit to Camp Victory to arrange for the shipment of Torres' remains to the Philippines.

Torres was killed in the Amiriyah district, an insurgent-infested area. A majority of the district's population is believed to be made up of former Iraqi army personnel hostile to foreigners.

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