Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 25      July 30 - August 5, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines








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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 region.


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.

Migrante International is an alliance of 96 migrant organizations in 22 countries composed of OFWs and their families.

Martinez described the informant as a “top level source,” who has “first-hand knowledge” in the evacuation of OFWs in Lebanon.

Mukhang 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.

’Yung 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.

Labor Secretary 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.


The Philippines 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 Israel.

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.

After OWWA 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. 

OWWA funds

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.

According to 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 bills.

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.

But Migrante International has criticized this, saying the banks rake in a one percent management fee. 

OFWs plight

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 the church.

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 pagkain,” Martinez echoed the priest’s sentiments. “Sa gabi, pinuputulan na daw sila ng kuryente para makatipid daw (ang gobyerno) ang Lebanon.”(They 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 money.) Bulatlat



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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