317 Pinoys repatriated from Beirut
An overseas Filipino worker gets a hug from a fellow worker during a sendoff at the Philippine embassy chancery in Beirut, Lebanon the other day.
STAR/File
317 Pinoys repatriated from Beirut
Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - September 27, 2020 - 12:00am

BEIRUT (Updated 9:31 a.m.) – At least 317 Filipinos here in Lebanon’s capital city boarded Philippine Airlines flight PR8681, which departed from Aéroport International de Beyrouth around 5 p.m. on Friday (10 p.m., Manila time), marking the beginning of a long but much awaited journey back home to Manila.

The repatriated overseas Filipinos – domestic helpers, chefs, chocolate factory workers and nurses – either lost their jobs because of the economic downturn or were too scared to stay here because of a series of unfortunate events the past couple of months.

Their journey commenced at the Philippine embassy chancery here where their fellow Filipinos sent them off. Lebanon was rocked by a massive explosion last Aug. 4, killing at least 200 people, injuring around 6,000 and leaving around 300,000 homeless.

Two weeks ago, a towering inferno also caused widespread panic in Beirut’s port, just two days after another fire gutted the site of the August explosion.

The Western Asian country is also a COVID-19 hotspot, with cases now at more than 33,900, after recording its highest daily tally of new cases on Friday at 1,143.

But the biggest concern among the distressed OFWs is the economic downturn, which has caused many of them to lose their jobs, said 35-year old Maricel Tagapan, a cleaner who is among the repatriated OFWs on the flight.

“There are no more dollars,” Tagapan told The STAR, which was among the media organizations invited to join the flight. Tagapan has been away from the Philippines for 15 years.

She and many of her fellow repatriated OFWs do not have jobs waiting for them in the Philippines but they will brave the uncertainty.

The repatriated Filipinos, all wearing face masks throughout the flight, can’t wait to see their families and loved ones again, although they would have to wait a few more days for the mandatory quarantine in different government-accredited facilities until the results of their swab tests, taken upon arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, are released.

The government repatriation team to and from Beirut was led by Chief of Presidential Protocol and Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs Robert Eric Borje.

The Philippine Airlines flight was chartered by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It marked the 50th repatriation flight of the government, bringing to more than 360,000 the total number of OFWs brought home since February 2020, Borje told The STAR.

The repatriation flight also carried donations from the DFA and LT Group Inc., the listed conglomerate of taipan Lucio Tan for Filipinos residing in Lebanon’s capital city.

In a ceremony held on Friday at the Philippine embassy in Beirut before the flight back to Manila, DFA officials turned over all donations to different partner organizations here in Lebanon.

In Manila, a day before the plane departed for Lebanon, PAL president and COO Gilbert Santa Maria turned over the donations to DFA officials led by Migrant Workers Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Arriola at the PAL Cargo Complex.

LT Group donations included 27,500 face shields, 3,000 boxes of disposable masks and 1,000 boxes of Vitamin C. In all, the plane carried 5,000 boxes of relief goods from the DFA.

The Boeing 777 was flown by PAL Capt. Rommel Quizon and Capt. Raymund Expeditus Casambre from Beirut to Manila, and assisted by Second Officers Jonard Cerafica and Antonio Sy with flight purser Jeffrey Briones leading the cabin crew team.

The flight deck team of PR8680 MNL-BEY was led by PAL B777 Chief Pilot, Capt. Leo Bernabe, assisted by First Officer Joseph Marvin Jumaquio and Second Officers Jericho Serrano and Manoj Kumar Chandumal with flight purser Levi Villanueva heading the cabin crew roster.

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