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  • Writer's pictureIan Murphy

Philippine’s Evacuation Plan for Foreign Nationals in Taiwan

Recent geopolitical conflicts have exposed governments to the realities of the need to keep their citizens safe abroad. Revelations from the Ukraine War and Israel-Hamas conflict show governments that they need to be proactive in planning civilian evacuations from conflict zones. Increasing tensions in the Taiwan Strait has led to increasing concerns over the prospect of evacuating an estimated 159,000 Filipinos living in Taiwan should a conflict break out. In accordance with this, the Philippines is pressed to finalize its evacuation strategy in case of a potential Chinese attack on Taiwan.



The Philippine’s General Evacuation Strategy


The Guidelines for the Repatriation of Filipino Nationals from Countries in Conflict or Crisis outlines a comprehensive plan for evacuating Filipinos from countries facing armed conflict and crises. This plan includes preparation, activation, evacuation, repatriation and reintegration. These guidelines emphasize the importance of coordination with various stakeholders, including government agencies, host governments, and non-governmental organizations.


  • Preparation: includes identifying and registering Filipino nationals in the country. This information will be used to contact and assist evacuees during a potential evacuation. At this stage, contingency plans are developed for different evacuation scenarios, which includes identifying potential evacuation routes and securing transportation agreements.


  • Activation: the Philippine government will declare an Alert Level 4, which triggers a mandatory evacuation process in which rapid response teams will be deployed. This team will work with the Philippine Embassy to contact and assist Filipino nationals to leave the affected country.


  • Evacuation: the Philippine government will secure transportation, which can include chartering flights, buses, or trains, and ensure the safe passage of Filipinos to the Philippines.


  • Repatriation and Reintegration: upon arriving in the Philippines, evacuees will be connected with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. They will be provided with accommodation, meals, and medical assistance. These two agencies will also provide financial assistance and livelihood support for Filipino workers reintegrating into the domestic workforce.



The Philippine Government’s Evacuation from Ukraine


Filipinos were advised to leave Ukraine as early as February 2022, when the threat of a Russian invasion became apparent. In the case of the Ukraine conflict, the Philippine government promptly declared Alert Level 4, which mandated the evacuation of all Filipino nationals. The Department of Foreign Affairs worked with the Philippine Embassy in Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, and Romania to arrange transportation from Ukraine into neighboring countries.


The evacuation of Filipinos from Ukraine was a complex and challenging operation due to the ongoing conflict in the country. The evacuation process was complicated by the closure of Ukrainian airspace and the limited availability of transportation options. The Philippine government worked with Ukrainian authorities to secure safe corridors for its citizens to travel to evacuation points. Once at the evacuation points, Filipinos were transported to neighboring countries, where they were assisted by Philippine embassy personnel. Limited access to transportation meant that the DFA had to adapt by using various transportation modes, including buses, trains, and flights, to reach evacuees and bring them to various checkpoints.


This immediate approach differed from the Philippine’s evacuation from Italy during the COVID-19 surge in February 2020. which was gradual and phased due to the nature of the crisis. In Italy, initial efforts focused on repatriating vulnerable individuals such as elderly, sick, and pregnant Filipinos. Health regulations targeted at preventing the spread of COVID-19 also meant that evacuees were subject to testing and quarantine measures upon arrival to the Philippines. This strategy was also accompanied by financial assistance. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration provided assistance to cover the travel expenses of repatriated Filipino workers as well as livelihood assistance to help displaced Filipinos reintegrate into the Philippine workforce.


The key differences between these evacuation plans were based on scale, urgency, and security. The evacuation from Ukraine was a large-scale endeavor with high urgency due to the imminent threat of armed conflict. Ukraine also required heightened security measures for the entire evacuated population and required evacuation to multiple countries before repatriation to the Philippines. Efforts in Italy did require adherence to new health regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the evacuation process was gradual and only targeted a portion of the overseas Filipino population in Italy. An evacuation scenario from Taiwan will more closely resemble the evacuation of Ukraine, with urgent, large-scale operations that involve evacuation to multiple countries.



Preparations for Evacuations from Taiwan


The Philippine government has been preparing for a possible evacuation of its citizens from Taiwan in the event of a cross-strait conflict between China and Taiwan. The Department of Foreign Affairs has a contingency plan in place for evacuating Filipino nationals by air and sea as well as close monitoring and communication with the Taiwanese government. The Philippine government scores well in the activation and repatriation/reintegration phases, but it lacks in preparation and potentially implementing evacuation.


Although the Philippine government has made significant efforts to prepare for the evacuation of its citizens from Taiwan, there are fears that such preparation could cause panic or unrest. However, these preparations should be made public to keep Filipino citizens aware and safe in the event of an emergency. The Philippine government can improve preparedness by encouraging encourage Filipinos to pre-register, which would include their contact information, location, and any special accommodations, which would allow for quicker identification and assistance in the event of an evacuation.


The government should also establish redundant communication channels with Filipinos in Taiwan by utilizing multiple platforms, apps, social media, and dedicated hotlines. Given Taiwan’s island geography, the government should strengthen its evacuation routes through air and sea since it lacks land access to neighboring countries. Partnerships should include Japanese government agencies to assist Filipinos that may flee to Japan’s southern islands through the port of Keelung.


Although the Philippines has policies in place, evacuating its citizens from Taiwan will be as challenging as evacuating them from Ukraine, if not more. The lack of land routes, intensity of conflict, and large number of Filipinos means that the government will need to be informed, prepared, and coordinated. Strengthening the preparation phase and communicating early and often with Filipinos living in Taiwan is key to keeping them safe.

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