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Philippine church readies support for overseas workers

Falling oil prices could cause mass retrenchment from Middle East, bishop warns

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Published: February 15, 2016 10:01 AM GMT

Updated: February 15, 2016 10:09 AM GMT

Philippine church readies support for overseas workers

Jobless Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia stay in a temporary shelter provided for by the Philippine government. (Photo Johnny Revilla)

The country's Catholic bishops are preparing ways to support Filipinos working in the Middle East who might be affected by falling oil prices in the region.

"[We] will intensify our pastoral programs for our [overseas Filipino workers], reaching out to them through chaplains and to their families through the parishes," said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

The prelate said the church is ready to provide seminars and transition counseling to the workers.

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Bishop Santos said news that Filipino workers in the Middle East are in danger of losing their jobs is "very alarming" because it would also affect the families left behind in the country.

"A widespread retrenchment [of workers] will definitely affect adversely their dependents here," said the prelate, adding that thousands of Filipinos are working in the Middle East.

In a statement on Feb. 14, Bishop Santos urged the Philippine government to prepare a contingency plan and coordinate with host countries so that accurate data can be obtained on the conditions of Filipino workers.

"This is a problem not only of the workers but of the entire country," the prelate said.

The Philippine government in early February assured that the country has enough funds for repatriation and other forms of assistance for Filipino workers who may be affected by plunging crude oil prices.

"We just have to pin down which of our respective programs can be identified as possible areas of collaboration," Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said in a statement.

Rebecca Calzado of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration said "possible assistance" is being planned for displaced workers who will stay abroad after losing their jobs.

Government data show that during the first 11 months of 2015, the Middle East remained the second biggest source of remittances on a per region basis for the Philippines.

On a per country basis, Saudi Arabia’s 10.5-percent share of end-November remittances was surpassed only by the United States' 40-percent share.

The Central Bank of the Philippines has said that it expects a temporary slowdown in remittances from Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia and Iran amid the tension between the two Middle Eastern countries.

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