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Zubiri: Gov’t action ‘too little, too late’

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:49:00 02/28/2011


MANILA, Philippines—The government may have acted “too little, too late” in evacuating thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) out of troubled Libya, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said Sunday.

Zubiri observed that while its Asian neighbors had pulled out their nationals in the past two weeks, the Philippines had yet to organize a concrete, singular plan of action for the evacuation of thousands of Filipinos.

“It’s still chaotic for our OFWs. They have no clue where they’re supposed to go,” he said in an interview. “If we judge the response of our nation, compared with its Southeast Asian neighbors, we’re too little too late.”

Citing media reports, Zubiri said it was pitiful that the only assistance that government could give to distressed Filipinos were bus tickets to a nearby country in the early weeks of the unrest.

The first batch of displaced OFWs flew home on Saturday through the efforts of their employers, apprehensive about the fate of the thousands of their compatriots still in Libya that is wracked by protests against leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Zubiri wondered if the government had drawn up a concrete “plan of action” to repatriate the rest of the Filipinos, and if it had, who was the official in charge of this.

“What’s taking them too long to send a crisis team in the Middle East, and release more funds for the repatriation of the OFWs? OFWs are coming in in trickles. About time we try to sit down to draft a plan of action if the fighting escalates in Libya,” he said.

Who’s in charge?

By this time, the government should have designated an official in charge of the evacuation plan in the Middle East, instead of embassy officials implementing “small plans of action on the ground,” the senator said.

“We’re at a loss. Is it (Undersecretary) Esteban Conejos? Is it Secretary Albert del Rosario? Is it Vice President Jejomar Binay? Who’s the go-to guy in charge of the plan of action if trouble escalates in the Middle East? There’s no man in charge, and the plans of action are disparate,” he said.

Del Rosario quietly flew Friday night for Tunisia, joining Conejos, purportedly to oversee the repatriation of Filipino workers from Libya.




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Stranded Filipinos

In Baguio City, Grail Tayab said her husband Dexter, a surveyor for an oil company in Libya, had called from an unspecified place at the border with Egypt after he was rescued by a diplomatic mission, along with 91 other Filipinos, at the Az-Zuwaytinah Terminal Tank Farm.

“He and his fellow workers were let off at the arrival area near the Egyptian border and discovered there were already 300 Filipinos stranded there. Many complained about being robbed,” she said.

Tayab said only one Philippine government representative was processing travel documents that could delay onward travel to Cairo to await a flight to Manila. “The process could take even longer,” she said.

She said her husband told her that the Filipinos were told it was uncertain if a bus would be available to bring them to Cairo.

“Their Thai colleagues were able to take the bus to Cairo already but the Filipinos are still stuck there. They were left there,” Tayab said in Filipino.

Food, blankets needed

“They have requested us, their families back home, to let the government know that if they need to stay there for a few more days, they should be supplied with food and blankets. The nights there are freezing and many of them are old. Only a few have the means to take care of themselves and they have no place to go to buy supplies,” Tayab said.

Even so, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III did not think that the government had been sluggish in moving Filipinos out of Libya.

“I don’t find it slow. I can understand the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and the executive department. They have to do a tough balancing act in order to make sure that they preserve the safety of Filipinos without necessarily hurting international ties with any of the other countries that are in turmoil,” he said in an interview.

Emergency powers

Sen. Ralph Recto, for his part, ruled out granting President Benigno Aquino III emergency powers to deal with the repatriation of Filipinos and oil price increases in the light of the crisis in the Middle East.

He said Mr. Aquino has ample resources and power to deal with the situation.

Recto said savings from interest payments on debt after the peso appreciated to P43 to a dollar, up from the P46-P48 assumed rate when the 2011 national budget was passed, among others, could be used to finance the repatriation of Filipinos.

“Resources are adequate. There’s no need for emergency powers,” he said.

He added that the government was not helpless against oil price increases. He said the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas could raise interest rates to curb inflation and strengthen the peso.

Recto also said that the Department of Energy should also keep in check the “greed” of oil companies and ensure that oil products are based on 30-day pricing. With reports from Vincent Cabreza and Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon
 
 
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20110228-322612/Zubiri-Govt-action-too-little-too-late


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PH gov’t to convince thousands of OFWs still in Libya to leave
By Jerry E. Esplanada Philippine Daily Inquirer First Posted 18:10:00 03/07/2011

MANILA, Philippines—Due to the unstable situation in Libya, six Philippine government teams currently deployed there will try their best in convincing the 13,000-plus remaining Filipino migrant workers to immediately leave the conflict-torn north African country.

Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis on Monday told a press briefing "there's a need for them to leave" Libya.

He said it was "very dangerous" to stay in Tripoli and some areas outside the Libyan capital.

Seguis said the DFA has raised its alert level from No. 3, or voluntary repatriation, to No. 4, which is strongly urging people to leave a particular troubled country.

"We can't force people to get out of Libya, but we're trying to convince them to leave," he said.

Seguis disclosed that "this week and up to Saturday, we will be on mop-up operations."

"We will get Filipinos in other areas [aside from Tripoli, Benghazi, Misurata and Brega, among others] who wish to be repatriated home to the Philippines," he said.

DFA Assistant Secretary J. Eduardo Malaya said in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that "both [the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment] will be conducting mop-up operations for another week for the remaining Filipinos in other areas [in Libya]."

If necessary, the government would arrange a third rescue mission using the Philippine-chartered Greek ship MV Ionian Queen to evacuate more Filipinos from Libya, according to Seguis.

"It depends on our mopping-up operations ... It's practical to fetch [Filipino evacuees] by ship," he said.

So far, the Cyprus-flagged vessel—which has total capacity of 1,720 passengers—has fetched some 1,800 Filipinos from the eastern coastal city of Benghazi and Tripoli.

At least 185 Filipinos from the vessel's first mission are still in Crete awaiting connecting flights to Manila.

As of Monday afternoon, 4,222 of the nearly 12,000 Filipinos who had fled Libya have returned to the country, according to Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, who joined Seguis and two other government officials during the press conference.

"So far, we have given 2,523 qualified [OFW] beneficiaries their one-time financial assistance of P10,000," said Baldoz.

Returning overseas Filipino workers are "being processed at our processing center at the Philippine Trade Training Center ... We continue to attend to the needs of our workers," she also said.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration head Carmelita Dimzon and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration chief Carlos Cao also showed up during the news conference.

For her part, Dimzon denied reports that one of the government repatriation teams in Libya was having funding problems.

"We have not received any complaints from our people in the field," she said.

On Monday, some 400 Filipinos—on board regular flights of Qatar Airways, Gulf Air, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, and Saudi Arabian Airlines—were expected to arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, according to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.


http://politics.inquirer.net/politics/view/20110307-324037/PH-govt-to-convince-thousands-of-OFWs-still-in-Libya-to-leave




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