MIDDLE EAST CRISIS: NCMF stops certification for Muslim Filipinos seeking work abroad

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 08 January) — The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) has temporarily stopped the issuance of certifications to Muslim Filipinos seeking greener pastures abroad in the wake of the conflict in the Middle East between Iran and the United States, an official said Wednesday.

Dimapuno Datu Ramos Jr.,  NCMF spokesperson, said the agency suspended the issuance Tuesday of the Certificate of Tribal Membership (CTM) to Muslim Filipinos who want to work outside the country.

“This was triggered by the tension in the Middle East as a precautionary measure on our part,” he said in a phone interview in Filipino.

Early Wednesday, Iran launched missile attacks on US forces stationed in Iraq, in retaliation to the killing of its top military commander, Qassem Soleimani, five days ago.

United States President Donald Trump admitted the American military carried out the airstrike that killed Soleimani and several others near an airport in Iraq.

Datu Ramos, also the NCMF director for external relations, said they have been issuing at least 50 certifications daily to Muslim Filipinos who want to go out of the country for work purposes.

The certification is a requirement by the Department of Foreign Affairs when they apply for passports, he said, noting the NCMF, under Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan, actively supports the government’s campaign against human trafficking.

Datu Ramos said the decision to stop the issuance of the CTM was based on the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte, who expressed grave concern about the condition and safety of OFWs in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Iran and nearby Arab countries as a result of the escalating tension between Iran and the United States.

During the 45th Cabinet meeting Monday night, Duterte instructed Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Special Envoy to the Middle East, and Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Abdullah Mama-o to travel to Iran and Iraq to discuss the plight of OFWs there.

The President also created a special working committee composed of the secretaries of National Defense and of the Interior and Local Government, the National Security Adviser, as well as the Secretaries of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Transportation, to draw up plans and measures for the evacuation of OFWs in the Middle East.

Datu Ramos said the NCMF’s next moves will depend on the results of Cimatu and Mama-o’s travel to the Gulf region.

He added they are still collating the latest data on Muslim Filipinos working in the Middle East.

The NCMF is a government agency created to promote the rights and welfare of Muslim Filipinos and their communities.

Based on the 2018 Survey on Overseas Filipinos conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority, of the almost 2.3 million OFWs, 2.1 percent or close to 50,000 came from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, now known as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)