Caught Again With Its Pants Down

Jul. 24, 2006

Lack of assistance and evacuation plans for Filipinos in Lebanon shows government neglect, irresponsibility and indifference to plight of OFWs

By Ramon Bultron

Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants

MANILA — It is outrageous, to say the least, of the Philippine government to say that it would only consider moving out its 34,000 citizens from Lebanon when the situation becomes out of control. To think that Middle East Preparedness Team special envoy Roy Cimatu, who would recommend the decision to evacuate, has not even set foot in Lebanon even if it has been bombed for the past six days by Israeli warplanes even makes it more condemnable.

Without even an evacuation plan and not a single resource allotted for the safety of Filipino workers in Lebanon, the Philippine government has again shown its inutility and neglect of their nationals abroad in times of crisis. This has now even become more apparent as alert level 4 which means immediate evacuation has already been declared and the Philippine authorities are just now scrambling to make evacuation arrangements.

The government has again made the excuse of lack of funds for its slow response to the crisis as well as the obvious insufficiency of their plans to secure the lives and livelihood of migrants and their families affected by the conflict. Without even first instituting their own assistance mechanisms, it has already resorted to outside support such as that of the Vaticans to assist OFWs in Lebanon.

Migrant Filipinos provide billions of dollars worth of remittances and payment for various governments and there is not a single cent allocated for overseas Filipinos under clear and present danger.

Where is the emergency repatriation fund of P100 million that should have been allotted for such cases as directed by Republic Act 8042 or the Magna Carta for OFWs and Their Families? As well, where are the billions of funds of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)?

There have been reports of Filipino evacuees in one church in Lebanon who are packed like sardines as well as OFWs abandoned by their employers who the country. Instead of verifying these reports and providing assistance. Estrelita Hizon who is president of a recruiters group and who sits in the OWWA Board of Trustees even irresponsibly declared that what is happening is not that bad and scary.

Several, mostly Western, countries have already or are in the process of evacuating their nationals abroad. Even Indonesia which just suffered another national tragedy has already evacuated some of their citizens. Other countries must follow suit most especially the Philippines which has the second highest number of foreign nationals in Lebanon.

In these times of crisis, OFWs and their families need concrete programs and actions and not unsubstantiated assurances nor mere monitoring of the situation.

We demand that the Philippine government prioritize the safety of its citizens in Lebanon by starting to evacuate them. We will hold accountable any Philippine official including the President herself if any harm befalls a Filipino worker because of their indifference.

(The author is the managing director of the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants.)

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