MANILA, Philippines—Apparently fearing reprisals on Filipino workers, the Philippines took no part at all on a United Nations General Assembly vote on a resolution endorsing an Arab League call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and strongly condemning human rights violations by his regime, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Saturday.
“Our nationals in Syria, who are highly vulnerable, are urgently being repatriated and we are receiving assistance from the Syrian government in this effort,” Del Rosario told the Inquirer in a text message. “Our primary concern right now is the welfare of our people.”
Del Rosario was on his way back to Manila on Saturday from an official trip to Mexico, added: “We are repatriating our people and we have asked the Syrian government to help. We are working together to accomplish this… for this reason, the Philippines was unable to vote for the resolution.”
The UNGA resolution, similar to one Russia and China vetoed on February 4, received 137 votes in favor, 12 against and 17 abstentions in the February 16 vote although representatives of three countries said their votes failed to register on the electronic board. The names of the Philippines did not appear on any of the lists.
Moscow and Beijing were among those who opposed the resolution, which was drafted by Saudi Arabia and submitted by Egypt on behalf of Arab states.
Other countries that voted against the resolution included Bolivia, Belarus, Cuba, Ecuador, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
The following countries abstained: Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Cameroon, Comoros, Fiji, Lebanon, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, St. Vincent, Suriname, Tanzania, Tuvalu, Uganda, and Vietnam.
Unlike the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the General Assembly, but its decisions lack the legal force of council resolutions.
The Philippine government repatriated 37 Filipino workers from Syria last February 14, bringing to 913 the number of Filipinos flown out of that strife-torn country.
The foreign office also deployed a “rapid response team,” consisting of personnel from the Philippine National Police, Department of Labor and the DFA, to “help out in the extraction and repatriation of OFWs in Syria’s conflict areas,” said Del Rosario.
Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesperson, said the department was to evacuate 164 more workers from Syria, where the violence “has become very alarming.”
Hernandez said the DFA had “a total of 278 repatriation applicants from the conflict areas and 222 of these were from Homs,” a city in central Syria.
Del Rosario said the Philippine mission in Damascus would remain open “as long as we have OFWs that need help.”
“We have no plans of closing….Our embassy will continue to operate as mandated by President Aquino,” he added.
The majority of the remaining 9,000 Filipino workers in Syria have ignored the government’s free repatriation offer, prompting the DFA to intensify its efforts to reach out to them and convince them to leave the country.