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DFA advises Pinoys vs travel to Libya, Bahrain, Yemen

February 21, 2011 1:31pm

(Updated 10:20 p.m) The Philippine government on Monday advised its citizens against traveling to Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, where violent protest actions aimed at ousting their respective leaders are raging.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the concerned Philippine embassies have likewise advised some 57,000 Filipinos in the three countries to be "alert" when they are in public places or on major roads.

Sinasabi po natin sa ating mga kababayan na kung may balak sila na pumunta sa mga lugar na iyon ay i-defer muna yung tinatawag natin na non-essential, non-urgent travels (We are telling Filipinos to defer non-essential and non-urgent travels). This is until the security situation in those countries has stabilized," DFA spokesperson Ed Malaya also said in a newscast on GMA News’ “24 Oras".

The Philippine posts in Tripoli (Libya), Manama (Bahrain), and Riyadh (which has jurisdiction over Yemen) have earlier said that they are on heightened alert but that the Filipinos in those countries were safe.

“‘Yung ulat po ay wala naman sa kanilang nasugatan or na-involve sa protest actions at sila po ay relatively safe (The report is that no Filipinos were injured or involved in the protest actions and they are relatively safe)," Malaya said.

The posts have likewise reportedly established 24-hour crisis monitoring teams.

The DFA said the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli communicated with the human resources manager of SNC Lavelin Company about the situation of some 1,800 Filipino workers at an airport construction site in Benghazi city, the center of protest actions in Libya.

However, the DFA said Filipino construction workers reportedly have accommodations, ample food and water, and are safe within the work site which has its own "security complement.

A Reuters report said some 100 protesters had died in Benghazi based on figures given by New York-based Human Rights Watch. The protesters aim to oust Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, who has been leading the country for four decades.

The Philippine post added that the Thai, Indonesian, Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi embassies— which also have sizable populations in Libya —have not announced any evacuation plans so far.

On the other hand, the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh said it has communicated with members of the Filipino community in Yemen, who told them that they are "relatively safe" and that malls and all transportation facilities had normal operations.

The Philippine Embassy in Manama, for its part, issued an advisory to Filipinos there to remain calm and avoid joining or going in places of protest actions.

As of June 2010, there are around 31,000 Filipinos in Bahrain, 26,000 in Libya, and 1,400 in Yemen.

Ensure safety of Pinoys, DFA urged

In a statement, migrants’ rights advocacy group Migrante International demanded that government disclose a “clear and proactive blueprint" to ensure the safety and protection of OFWs in the three conflict-ridden countries.

“We have here the DFA stating that our Filipinos are ‘relatively safe’ and there is no need for repatriation. Yet they have already issued a travel advisory warning Filipino nationals from traveling to these countries," said Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez.

“These are conflicting information, ano ba talaga ang totoong sitwasyon doon (what is the real situation there)?"

Martinez thus scored the government’s penchant for “last-minute actions", citing the similar situation in Egypt earlier when, he said, the government took action only when the crisis was at its peak.

“Where is the government’s blueprint for the protection of OFWs in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen now? O hihintayin pa ba muna nating may masaktan sa ating mga kababayan doon (Or do we first have to wait for our fellow-Filipinos there to get hurt)?" he asked.

Migrante said it has been receiving reports that OFWs are presently stranded either in their worksites or homes in the three countries, lacking food and other supplies and fearing for their safety.

According to Martinez, Migrante is having a hard time getting updates from organizers and coordinators in Libya and Bahrain as the Internet and phone lines have been cut.

‘We are scared’

In a report on GMA News’ “24 Oras", Margaret Ronquillo, a Filipino flight attendant working in Bahrain, said the relentless protests there have prevented her and the others from reporting to work.

Andito lang kami sa bahay. Natakot kami kasi hindi alam kung ano nangyayari. Akala namin giyera na or something so ang ginawa namin sa pagka-panic, nag-pack kami ng things (We are just in the house. We are scared because we don’t know what is happening. We thought it’s already war. In panic, we packing some things)," Ronquillo said in the newscast.

She said they are thankful that the violence there has started subsiding.

Ngayon tahimik na. Wala nang putukan, wala nang may nagti-tear gas (It’s now quiet. No gunfire, nobody firing tear gas). We're fine," Ronquillo said.

On the other hand, Aldrin Abaya, whose father Amadeo Abaya III is a construction worker in Libya’s Benghazi International Airport, said in the same newscast that his father and his co-workers now fear for their safety after protesters raided the airport and took the food and water supply.

Airport workers are now sleeping inside the airport’s barracks under soldiers’ protection, according to the younger Abaya.

Natatakot na po sila. Ang gusto nila is humingi ng tulong para makaalis na doon. Parang ang may problema din ‘ata 'yung dadaanan nila. So, hindi talaga nila alam kung papaaano makaka-escape doon (They are now afraid. What they want is to ask for help to able to flee from there. It looks like there’s also a problem with the way out. So, they don’t know how to escape from there)," he said.

He added that almost 200 Filipino construction workers are unable to leave their work sites and have no means of communicating with their loved ones.

Ang sa amin naman, hihintayin pa ba na may casualty na OFW bago sila kumilos na mag-evacuate? Kaysa ‘antayin na nila na may mangyari, saka na naman sila magso-sorry kung kailan huli na (On our part, are they waiting for an OFW casualty before they move to evacuate? Instead of waiting until something happens, they will offer an apology when it’s too late)," the young Abaya said.

Migrante’s Middle East chapter also said it has been receiving reports that OFWs in Libya are now afraid that clashes between demonstrators and government troops will reach their worksites.

In a separate release, Migrante regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said that their coordinator in Libya has reported they are now “trapped" inside their worksite.

Na-trap na kami dito. Nag-request kami ng bus sa company for evacuation papunta ng Tripoli, pero rejected dahil mahirap na daw bumiyahe (We’re now trapped here. We requested for a bus from the company for evacuation to Tripoli, but it was rejected because they say it is difficult to travel)," said Migrante coordinator Gil Lebria in a text message to Monterona.

Monterona said that Lebria and some 200 other OFWs are working at a Hamada MC-100 project site located near the Tunisian border, between Benghazi and Tripoli.

DOLE creates task force

On Monday, the Department of Labor and Employment created a task force to ensure the protection of OFWs in the violence-stricken countries. The task force will coordinate with the DFA in implementing contingency plans for the OFWs there, said Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz.

“I have today ordered the creation of a task force in the light of the highly fluid social and political situation in these countries," Baldoz said in a news release posted Monday night on the government's web portal.

“I have also instructed the task force to work very closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and our embassies to ensure that all preparation and contingency measures in the plan are smoothly implemented, including the relocation, evacuation, or repatriation of OFWs if any of these becomes necessary," she added.

Situation in some Middle East countries including Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Algeria may affect the safety of OFWs there, she noted.

Under the supervision of Labor Undersecretary Danilo Cruz, the task force will fast-track the gathering of reports and collating the information from Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs), Filipino communities, foreign employers, and local recruitment agencies.

The reports will be assessed for their relevance in the current efforts to ensure the safety and protection of OFWs, Baldoz said.

Members of the task force are Labor Attaché Jimmy Jimenez, Labor Attaché Nasser Mustafa, Maybelle Gorospe of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Orlando Nadora and Roberto Bassig of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and Nicon Fameronag of the Labor Communications Office.

“My marching order… is to monitor round-the-clock the situation and assess, review, and update our preparation under the government’s contingency plan," Baldoz said.

While the situation of OFWs in most Middle East countries remains relatively normal and calm, the labor chief said she finds it necessary to assess the readiness of DOLE and its labor attachés and welfare officers to respond to any situation.

At least 35 Filipino leaders in Bahrain have fully committed to assist government in the event of an emergency requiring relocation of OFWs to a safe place, according to DOLE.

“There is a need to assure the families of our OFWs in countries where there are disturbances not to worry because the government is taking appropriate steps to protect and care for our OFWs," Baldoz said. — KBK/VVP/VS, GMA News
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