Abdulgani Umag, OWWA’s regional administrator, assured relatives that “we’re doing everything to save our workers in Lebanon.”
Umag said his office has received too many calls and messages from relatives of OFWs when violence broke out in Lebanon last week.
He, however, admitted that unlike in other countries, the Philippines has no warships and planes to ferry thousands of overseas workers trapped in the war zones.
This as Sen. Ralph Recto urged the government to classify Israel and Lebanon as “disaster zones” so Filipino diplomats who are feverishly working to evacuate Filipinos out of harm’s way can access calamity funds.
Recto, in a press statement sent to MindaNews, said Malacañang should also allow the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to dip into the agency’s P2.8 billion projected “internal income” this year, mostly from passport and other consular fees, so it can use a part of this for evacuation efforts in the strife-torn countries.
“DFA is an income-earning agency. In times of crisis, it should be given a little leeway in tapping its own collection. This time, not all of its money should go to the Treasury, some must go to Beirut,” he said.
Recto said a number of Filipinos in Lebanon (26,030, of whom 6,000 are reportedly undocumented) and Israel (30,000, of whom 22,500 are reportedly undocumented) “warrant the immediate grant of resources to the DFA so it could respond to the situation.”
“In normal situations, Philippine consulates are already short of cash. In times of crisis, this should not be the case. They need fund augmentation. Before they can repatriate our people, we must remit funds to them first,” he said.
Recto noted that while other wealthier countries are sending “air and naval fleets to bring their people out to Beirut, our workers just need bus money for safe havens in neighboring counties.”
“If we can’t give them bus money, then it will send a depressing message to their fellow OFWs, whose remittances are what is keeping our economy afloat, and who are keenly watching how their government will help their fellow OFWs in distress,” he said.
“Beirut is a test case on the preparedness — and compassion — of the government, and the OFWs are watching,” Recto said. (Malu Cadeliña Manar / MindaNews)