6:56 pm | Monday, April 15th, 2013
MANILA, Philippines – While the situation in the Korean Peninsula remains unchanged, the Philippine Embassy in Seoul has begun preparing Filipino communities for possible conflict scenarios amid tensions between North and South Korea, starting with those in vulnerable cities near the tense border between the Korean neighbors.
The Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday said that officials from the Philippine mission in Seoul on Sunday met with Filipino area coordinators in four areas near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the North-South border, part of a series of meetings with some 150 Filipino community organizations across South Korea.
This even as the Embassy reported to the Manila home office that the atmosphere in South Korea “remains calm and normal” despite Pyongyang’s persistent threats of a missile launch against Seoul and its ally, the United States.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has been ratcheting up his war rhetoric against the South and its allies in protest of fresh international sanctions meted Pyongyang for nuclear tests earlier this year.
“Nevertheless, the Filipinos in South have been well-advised to remain vigilant and alert and in the event of armed conflict to proceed immediately to the designated shelters closest to their homes or workplaces,” said DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez in a press briefing.
He said officials from the Philippine mission in South Korea on Sunday gathered Filipino community leaders in the cities of Incheon and Seoul and counties in the provinces of Gyeonggi and Chungchoen to discuss the Philippine government’s existing contingency plan in case war broke out in the Korean Peninsula.
Hernandez said such areas “will be the most vulnerable in case of a border skirmish or limited conflict” being closest to the DMZ.
“The meeting discussed the immediate steps the area coordinators should take to prepare Filipino communities located in the respective areas as well as to address any problems that may crop up in case the alert level is raised,” Hernandez said.
He said similar dialogues were held in Daegu and Busan, two areas in the southern part of South Korea earlier identified as staging points in the event the situation warrants an evacuation. A third staging area already designated for the purpose is the neighboring city of Gimhae.
More coordination meetings with Filipino leaders will be held in the coming days, said Hernandez.
The Philippine Embassy has maintained its alert level at the lowest (level one of four) weeks since Pyongyang first aired its missile threat against South Korea.
Under this alert level, the Embassy has been in constant touch with some 40,000 Filipinos around South Korea to inform them of developments of the security situation and the designated evacuation points.
Hernandez also reiterated the Philippines’ openness to grant the US access to the country’s military bases in case of a full-scale war in the Korean Peninsula. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had made the statement over the weekend, echoing comments made by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
Del Rosario had said greater presence of US troops in the Philippines is welcome given provisions of the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty, which mandates “joint action if either the Philippines or US is attacked.”
“We’ll have to see if there is a request from the US side about the use of facilities. If there is a request, discuss it and make an assessment of this request,” Hernandez said.