Government to intensify evacuation of OFWs from Lebanon
- Helen Flores And Pia Lee-Brago () - August 13, 2006 - 12:00am
The government will continue evacuating Filipino workers from Lebanon even during the implementation of the resolution of the United Nations (UN) calling for a cessation of hostilities.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said the government is still working under the worst-case scenario that the conflict will further escalate amid the UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Lebanon.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has directed Ambassador to Beirut Al Francis Bichara, Undersecretary Rafael Seguis and Ambassador Roy Cimatu to exert more efforts in evacuating Filipinos trapped in the war-torn country.

Vice President Noli de Castro, head of Task Force Lebanon, directed them "to search for and evacuate any Filipino who may have been left behind in Tyre, Sidon and other parts of Southern Lebanon."

They were told to "redouble their intensity efforts to implement President Arroyo’s order of force evacuation of OFWs and to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire on the ground," Conejos said.

The DFA said the evacuation will continue until further orders from Task Force Lebanon.

Conejos said some Filipinos wanted to wait out the fighting in Lebanon, complacent that the UN-sponsored ceasefire would be implemented.

Conejos said the number of Filipino evacuees is expected to decrease once the UN resolution is implemented.

Filipinos seeking refuge at the Our Lady of Miraculous Medal relocation center in Sassine, Beirut has decreased, he said.

Most of the Filipino workers opted to remain with their employers amid plans by Israel to intensify its ground operations against the Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon.

Conejos pointed out the possibility that Israel might maximize its offensives to root out Hezbollah before the UN resolution is implemented.

"Most likely the operation will intensify but we will see a dramatic lull in fighting when it the diplomatic solution comes in. We will see a dramatic lull in evacuees if ceasefire is observed," he said.

Conejos added at least two planes charted by International Organization for Migration are still awaiting to be filled up by evacuating Filipino workers.

Manila, on the other hand, has sent a note verbale to the Lebanese government, along with an appeal to allow Filipinos to leave and return home, even if they still have standing contracts with their employers.

DFA spokesman Gilberto Asuque said the Philippine Embassy in Beirut has made representations with the Lebanese government to allow Filipino workers to evacuate on the basis of customary international law.

Asuque stressed the move is an inherent right of the Philippine government like any other state to protects its citizens in times of war.

"The Philippine government, through the Philippine Embassy in Beirut, has made representation with Lebanon so the employers would allow them to leave and return to the Philippines on the basis of customary international law," Asuque said.

"And so it is up to the Lebanese government to consider how they will convince their nationals to let their employees leave in spite of a binding private contract between the employee and the employer," he said.

Although Manila invoked a higher principle of customary international law, Asuque said the Philippine government "will (still) implement President Arroyo’s instruction without violating Lebanese law."

Manila issued the diplomatic note following reports that some Lebanese employers refused to allow their Filipino employees to citing their contract commitments.
The ban remains
Even if the UN-sanctioned ceasefire is implemented, Labor Secretary Arturo Brion said a deployment ban on deploying Filipino workers to Lebanon would remain in effect.

"At this point, it is clear that the need to ensure the safety of the overseas Filipino workers and to ensure the reintegration of those repatriated from Lebanon must take precedence over their remittances to the country," he said.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Marianito Roque added the UN-sponsored ceasefire would also give them the opportunity to check on the welfare of Filipinos trapped in Lebanon.

Roque claimed 320 Filipino workers are still in Syria awaiting repatriation while 200 others have camped out in the Our Lady of Miraculous Medal church and a school in Beirut.

For those still in Syria, Roque said the stranded Filipinos there have reached the "point of no return," since they have already been given exit visas in Lebanon.

Roque also noted the decrease in the number of Filipinos seeking for repatriation. "With the ceasefire, expectedly less people would want to be evacuated," he said.

He said OWWA had already spent P142 million of the P500-million budget allocated for evacuation.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said the feverish efforts of the government to evacuate its workers from Lebanon is just a waste of time and resources.

Enrile said there is "no sense" in forcing the evacuation of Filipinos who are outside the conflict area because they would eventually return.

"Why spend money bringing them out? When the conflict is over, those evacuated would just go back. So that’s just a waste of money," Enrile said.

The senator noted President Arroyo’s order to for a total evacuation of Filipinos from Lebanon. With Sheila Crisostomo, Marvin Sy

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