MANILA, Philippines—Another overseas Filipino worker died in conflict-stricken Syria over two weeks ago, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.
The DFA said Meran Prieia Montezor, 23, a native of Camarines Sur, was reportedly killed in an ambush by “armed gangs” in Homs on February 24 while traveling with her employer’s family.
Montezor’s death brings to two the number of Filipinos to have died in the troubled Middle East country. Last February 22, another female OFW, who was waiting for her flight back to the Philippines, died of renal failure.
Meanwhile, the Blas Ople Center, a migrants rights group, is calling for a congressional inquiry into the state of rescue operations in Syria in light of the death of the OFWs.
“The tragic death of a Filipino domestic worker while fleeing Homs, Syria with her employer’s family underscores the need for the Aquino administration to give full priority and attention to the fast-developing humanitarian crisis in Syria,” said Susan Ople, the head of the policy center.
Citing a report which the Philippine Embassy in Damascus received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Syria, the DFA said the ambush took place at 11 a.m. near a textile company within the industrial district of Homs.
Montezor, the child she was caring for and her Syrian employers were hit by bullets, the DFA said, adding that the authorities in Homs were still hunting down the assailants.
“An Embassy team, led by Charge d’Affaires Olivia Palala, is now in Homs to arrange for the transfer of the victim’s remains from Homs to Damascus and to meet with the employer,” the DFA said. “The team will likewise meet with the Syrian authorities on the matter to request further investigation on her death.”
The DFA assured Montezor’s relatives, who have already been informed of the incident, that Philippine officials will continue to make representations with the Syrian authorities for the immediate arrest and prosecution of the assailants.
A Rapid Response Team, composed of DFA, Department of Labor and Employment and Department of Interior and Local Government personnel, remains in Syria to assist in the repatriation and to extract Filipino nationals in the country’s conflict-stricken areas, especially in the governorates of Homs, Hama, Idlib and Dara’a.
The DFA raised the crisis alert level to 4 in Syria on December 22, and mandatory repatriation of all Filipinos in the country is underway due to the escalating tensions there.
Under crisis alert level 4, mandatory repatriation at Philippine government’s expense is being implemented.
As of March 12, the Embassy repatriated some 1,120 Filipinos from Syria.
“The DFA continues to do its utmost to reach all Filipinos in Syria to inform them of the measures implemented by the Philippine government and to get them out of harm’s way,” the foreign office said.
Meanwhile, Ople said that a legislative inquiry will help ascertain whether all actions are fully coordinated, and that the best teams and all necessary resources are in place in Syria.
“We respect and believe in the sincerity of our embassy and DFA personnel who are in the frontlines in Syria. It is also for their benefit that the Ople Center now seeks an impartial and independent assessment of the government’s ongoing rescue and repatriation efforts through a congressional inquiry,” Ople said.
The OFW advocate recommended that a team composed of the most battle-tested labor and welfare attaches, social welfare attaches as well as consular officers be dispatched to Syria.
The Ople Center also recommended that the Commission on Appointments take up the nomination of Ambassador-designate Nestor Padalhin so that he could immediately head the Philippine Embassy in Damascus.
She also recommended that the DFA and OWWA make full use of social media sites and broadcast stations to relay information to OFWs in Syria through their families here at home.
“Unlike Libya, our workers scattered across Syria do not know where the rescue teams are, and who are the community leaders or teams that they could reach out to. In quiet desperation, some of our workers have started planning their own escape routes which sadly puts them in extreme danger,” she added.