Ochoa: Rapid Response Teams ready in Libya and Syria

The Rapid Response Teams (RRTs), trained and prepared to address developments in crisis-affected countries with significant OFW populations, have been activated and are closely monitoring developments in Libya and Syria, Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. said on Wednesday.

“RRTs were deployed to Syria and Libya on August 13, and the team in Syria has already reported that they have validated the contingency plans for OFWs based in Syria,” Ochoa said.

“The RRT assigned to Libya, on the other hand, is at the Libya-Tunisia border. It is closely monitoring developments in the area and is ready to assist OFWS that leave Libya via that route,” added Ochoa, who also chairs the Overseas Preparedness and Response Team (OPRT).

Ochoa said one of the priority programs of the OPRT when it was formed by President Benigno Aquino III was the formation of several RRTs, with each team assigned to review and assess the contingency plans prepared by Philippine diplomatic posts in the Middle East.

“We did not want to wait for the next crisis to occur before acting so we formed and trained the RRTs in anticipation of these developments in the Middle East. These teams were trained last May and have been ready for deployment to crisis-affected countries in the Middle East since June of this year,” Ochoa said.

The RRTs are tasked to verify and validate the contingency plans in crisis-affected areas, familiarize themselves with actual conditions on the ground and augment efforts and personnel of the Department of Foreign Affairs in countries where there are political upheavals.

The RRTs, which are composed of select personnel from the DFA, Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), Department of National Defense (DND), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) report directly to the OPRT and work in tandem with the foreign affairs office.

The OPRT was established through Executive Order 34 signed by the President on April 6, 2011. It replaced the Presidential Middle East Preparedness Committee (PMEPC), which was created under Executive Order No. 159 in 2002, to deal with the evacuation of thousands of Filipino workers in the Middle East at the height of the Iraq crisis.

Under EO 34, the OPRT is composed of the Executive Secretary as chairperson and the presidential adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers’ Concerns and secretaries of the DFA, DoLE, DND, and, the Departments of Justice (DoJ), Interior and Local Government (DILG), and Budget and Management (DBM), as members.

The high-level crisis team is tasked to draw up strategies and programs and formulate policies to appropriately respond to crisis situations affecting Filipinos abroad. It is also tasked to develop and adopt interactive operating arrangements among agencies to ensure maximum coordination.###