MANILA - The 19 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who returned from Iraq yesterday knew there was a ban on deployment to the strife-torn country.
But like contestants at the once popular game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," they needed to be prompted for the precise month when the ban was imposed.
The OFWs arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) yesterday afternoon on board a Gulf Air flight.
The 19 workers were deployed as janitors and laundry workers in Camp Cooke, an American military camp in Tajik, several miles away from Baghdad.
In a cellphone patch with The STAR, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Marianito Roque said the remoteness of the camps made it difficult for embassy officials to contact the OFWs and possibly arrange for their repatriation.
"The communications there in Tajik is difficult since it's far from Baghdad, Iraq, where the Philippine embassy is located," he said.
The government banned the deployment of workers to Iraq after militants kidnapped truck driver Angelo de la Cruz in July.
But despite the ban, the Department of Labor and Employment estimates that some 5,000 OFWs are still in Iraq, working mostly for the US military or its contractors.
The 19 OFWs, who were met by OWWA representatives, were identified as Rowena Martinez, Rosemarie Quisumbing, Marichu Valentino, Melinda Mostoles, Marcelin Escotin, Jacklyn Carasco, Rhodora Noel, Alma Elono, Cynthia Tabur, Annalyn Terio, Marian Rosales, Anna Ma. Garay, Juliet Ramoso, Esperanza Tibo, Homira Abdullah, Doreen Agbuya, Terese Ma. Dimacali, Lani Garcia and Marivic Gabo.
Most of them had been working in Iraq since January.
But their employer terminated them before the expiration of their one-year contracts because of concerns over their security.
In an interview at the NAIA, Terio said she decided to go home rather than be deployed to other camps.
"I just finished my contract and decided to go home. Others were redeployed to other US military camps," she said in Filipino.
Terio claimed that her group's entry into Iraq did not violate the government ban on deployment.
"We left Jordan on Jan. 25 before the ban (was imposed)," she said.
Terio said that her group had to travel by land from Jordan to Iraq for 12 hours.
But asked when the ban on deployment was imposed Terio could not give a definite date. She could only reply that she thought the ban was imposed just last October.
Terio said they left Camp Cooke on Oct. 31 and stayed at the Philippine embassy in Baghdad until they took their flight to the Philippines.
Another OFW, Agbuya, confirmed Terio's claim that some of the OFWs agreed to be transferred to Tikrit, another remote town in Iraq, where there is reportedly heavy fighting.
Like Terio, Agbuya said she volunteered to be repatriated rather than redeployed.
She said she flew from Manila to Jordan last March but was transferred to Iraq a few days after her arrival. - With AFP