Only 3,400 of OFWs in
Lebanon Could Come Home
No gov’t plan for
those in Israel, other ME countries
A migrant group bares
that only 3,400 out of the 34,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in
Lebanon will be repatriated by the Philippine government. Worse, it has
no crisis management plan in case the war escalates in the Middle East
A migrant group
revealed that the government plans to save only 10 percent of about 34,000
overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the war-torn Lebanon, and worse, it
has no crisis management plan yet if the war escalates region wide.
Quoting a source at
the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Migrante Sectoral
Party (MSP) spokesperson Garry Martinez disclosed that the government
plans to repatriate only 10 percent or about 3,400 OFWs in Lebanon.
International is an alliance of 96 migrant organizations in 22 countries
composed of OFWs and their families.
the informant as a “top level source,” who has “first-hand knowledge” in
the evacuation of OFWs in Lebanon.
nakukunsensya siya sa ginagawa ng gobyerno dahil involved din siya dito,”
(He was bothered by his conscience at being involved with what the
government is doing) he said.
Martinez said this
could be the government’s “grand plan,” to wait for the war to worsen and
make it the reason to no longer enter Lebanon.
installment na pagpapauwi ng mga kababayan natin ay para sabihin lang
na may ginagawa ang gobyerno araw-araw,” (Our compratriots are
being sent home in small batches, just to make it appear that the
government is doing something everyday) Martinez said.
Arturo Brion had earlier explained that the evacuation of OFWs is
mandatory only in southern Lebanon where the alert level has been raised
to four. Evacuation in central and northern Lebanon is still voluntary
where the alert level remained at three.
The migrant leader
also said that the government’s plan to put a big Philippine flag on top
of the Miraculous Medal Sassine Church in Beirut, where OFWs have taken
refuge, would not save the migrant workers from the Israeli attacks.
“Walang mata ang
bomba,di makakakilala ‘yan. Tatama ‘yan kahit saang lugar. Kahit may flag
ka o wala, tatamaan ka n’yan,” (Bombs have no eyes. It will strike
anywhere, whether there is a flag or not) he said noting that the nearest
bomb hit just five kms. away from the church.
repatriated the first batch of OFWs on the 10th day since the
bombing started, while France responded earliest, bringing home its
nationals on the third day.
The slow response of
the government to repatriate the OFWs in Lebanon showed it has no crisis
management plan yet, Martinez said. He stressed that this being a
Lebanon-Israel crisis, a crisis management plan should have also been in
place for about 30,000 OFWs in Israel. Martinez’s wife, Jocelyn, is in
Jocelyn, 36, works as
a caregiver in Kadima, a three-hour trip away from Israel’s capital Tel
Aviv. Martinez echoed his wife’s complaint that up to this writing, she
has not heard of an evacuation plan for migrant workers like her if
strikes against her host country escalates.
Because of this,
Martinez was forced to talk to his wife’s employer for her safety. The
employer, a Swiss-Israeli, promised to take Martinez’s wife out of Israel
in case of a worse scenario.
“If the government
could not repatriate the 30,000 OFWs in Lebanon, has no plan for those in
Israel, how could it save the other OFWs in other Middle East countries in
case of a regionwide war?” Martinez said, adding that there are about 1.5
million OFWs deployed in the Middle East.
Martinez said that
the government should have already learned its lessons from the Gulf War
when it failed to repatriate thousands of OFWs from Kuwait.
Task Force Ligtas
For their part,
Migrante is also helping the distressed OFWs in Lebanon thru Task Force
Ligtas, which was formed even earlier than the government’s Oplan Sagip
OFW sa Lebanon.
He said that after
they have announced its formation and the hotline number 9114165 on the
third day of the strike, calls and text messages from families of stranded
OFWs in Lebanon started coming in.
“Nabuo ito dahil
inutil ang gobyerno, wala silang naipakitang plano,” he said. “We took
it upon ourselves na tayo na lang ang magtulungan.” (We formed the task
force because the government was inutile, they don’t have any plan. We
took it upon ourselves to help each other.)
Fely Gudasin, mother
of OFW in Lebanon Irma Tulauan, became its spokesperson.
Administrator Marianito Roque admitted he could not do anything for
Tulauan’s repatriation since her contract is still active, Tulauan managed
to escape her employer and run to the church.
The task force has
been coordinating with the families of OFWs in Lebanon, gathering contact
numbers and coordinating these with the OWWA.
While many OFWs are
suffering from the perils of war in Lebanon, officials at the Embassy in
Lebanon, foreign affairs and OWWA squabble over evacuation funding.
The bickering was
sparked after Ambassador to Lebanon Al Francis Bichara said on national
television that they will stop the evacuation as they already lack funds.
In a news briefing in
Malacañang, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs
Esteban Conejos Jr., said Bicharra “has enough money.”
Conejos said the
Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released $150 million to the
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on July 20, with $150,000 of which
disbursed to the Embassy in Lebanon to augment the embassy funds amounting
to only $200,000.
Conejos said Bichara
must be confused to think that they only have $150,000 funding.
All in all, there are
almost $380,000 total funds in Beirut to be used for the evacuation
purposes of OFWs in Lebanon.
Administrator Roque, OWWA had already spent some $1.5 million for the
evacuation of 1,047 OFWs from Lebanon.
Aside from this, he
said they are also paying the cost of maintaining the staging area in
Damascus where OFWs stay up to 48 hours before flying home to Manila.
Meanwhile, Roque said
that the P7.6 billion OWWA fund is still intact with the Land Bank of the
Philippines (LBP) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP),
invested in government securities in both the treasury bonds and treasury
He added that aside
from this, OWWA has about P200 million in cash deposited in the LBP as
stand-by fund for the ongoing evacuation of OFWs in Lebanon.
International has criticized this, saying the banks rake in a one percent
If the OWWA fund is
still intact, Martinez asked why the government has not even supplied
tents to the Miraculous Medal church in Lebanon where the OFWs taking
refuge had spilled outside.
Martinez added that
the government should rechannel the P1 billion budget for the
anti-insurgency campaign to augment the evacuation funds of the OFWs.
He said that even Fr.
Agustin Advincula, the only Filipino Catholic priest in Lebanon and the
priest at the Miraculous Medal Sassine Church, has questioned where the
OWWA funds has gone after seeing the plight of the OFWs taking refuge in
Martinez said the
priest told them the church is already shouldering the water expenses for
the OFWs after the church’s own water supply has been cut.
“Bumibili na daw
sila ng mineral water pero baka makaramdam na raw sila ng kakapusan sa
Martinez echoed the priest’s sentiments. “Sa
gabi, pinuputulan na daw sila ng kuryente para makatipid daw (ang gobyerno)
are already buying mineral water, and they might also run out of food. At
night, electricity is turned off so the Lebanese government can save
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© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
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