Locsin challenges activists at DFA picket to try to beat him up

Locsin challenges activists at DFA picket to try to beat him up
Locsin initially challenged the crowd to try to beat him up before giving an assurance that migrant Filipino workers stranded in the Middle East would be brought home.
Photo courtesy of College Editors Guild of the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Friday assured activist groups that the government will bring home migrant workers who may be at risk due to tension in the Middle East back to the Philippines if they want to.

Locsin made the statement after confronting activists picketing the Department of Foreign Affairs and challenging them to beat him up.

"Kahit na wala nang gera. In spite of that, there will be a massive repatriation effort to bring our people back home," he said, adding government funds will be used for the clearances and exit permits that Filipinos who want to be repatriated might have to pay for.

The government has decided to implement mandatory repatriation only for OFWs in Iraq after initially saying Filipino workers in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon would have to come home. A seeming de-escalation of tension between the US and Iran has prompted the government to make repatriation mandatory only for Filipinos in Iraq.

"There are people there in the shelter, we will bring them home," Locsin said. "If they do not want to come home, we will stay there and we will protect them as much as we can," he also said.

"Don't worry we will bring them home," he stressed.

He also said that there would be a "life for a life" in the killing of Jeanelyn Villavende, an OFW who reportedly died in Kuwait at the hands of her employer last month. He said the government will not accept the payment of "blood money" to withdraw charges and drop her case.

Migrante: Send social workers, health workers instead

Locsin made his statement after tense minutes outside the Department of Foreign Affairs as activists led by OFW rights group Migrante protested the government's plan to deploy two battalions—one from the Army and another from the Marines—to help with the repatriation of Filipino workers in Iraq.

According to a press release on Thursday, Migrante "sees the deployment of combatants and Duterte’s default pro-US position as adding fuel to the fire in an already conflict-ridden Middle East region." 

It said the government should instead have sent social workers, health workers and translators to help OFWs in the Middle East.

A video provided by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines shows Locsin trying to grab the microphone from Migrante chairperson Arman Hernando, saying he had heard their demands.

"Sandali lang po, programa po namin ito, gusto po namin pakinggan niyo po muna ang aming mga panawagan," Hernando said, prompting Locsin to raise his hands and walk away.

(Just a moment, this is our program. We want you to listen to our calls first.)

Activists booed and resumed chanting "No to war in Middle East, save our OFWs" as Locsin walked away. He soon returned and told the crowd to "try it, o sige, bugbugin mo ako," which was not among the calls that the activists were making.

He briefly answered questions from ABS-CBN News reporter Zen Hernandez before turning to the chanting crown and saying: "O bugbugin mo ako, sige. (Come on, beat me up)."

To which Hernando responded: "Hindi po ito usapin, secretary, ng bugbugan. Ang kailangan po namin ay proteksyon." 

(This is not about beating people up, secretary. What migrant workers need is protection)

In a statement to reporters Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Ed Menez said "it appears that after the refusal by the protesters to share the microphone, SFA Locsin returned to engage on the issues."

Menez, noting that some of the placards carried by the activists condemned the United States, also said: "Seems to me from the signs and hashtags they were at the wrong address on Roxas Boulevard."

The US Embassy is also along Roxas Boulevard.

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