The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday denied a newspaper report that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seeking asylum in the Philippines amid the escalating violence in his country.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario categorically denied the story (not in the Philippine Daily Inquirer) that suggested the matter was discussed at a meeting on Tuesday between Bouthaina Shabaan, a trusted adviser of the beleaguered Syrian leader, and President Aquino.
“There was absolutely no discussion on the matter,” Del Rosario said in a text message.
“There is no truth to that report that President Assad is seeking asylum in the Philippines. In other words, the unnamed sources gave the wrong information,” Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesperson, told a press briefing Thursday.
He said Shabaan indeed handed a letter to the President but that the two sides did not talk about the possibility of asylum for Assad in the Philippines.
He explained that Shabaan’s visit was part of Syria’s campaign to inform the international community about “political solutions” that the Syrian government is considering to end its the conflict with rebel forces.
Hernandez characterized the meeting as a “sharing of information” on Syria’s plans, adding that Shabaan went on to visit other countries after she left the Philippines.
“It’s part of their campaign to the international community that this is how they would like to solve their crisis. Usually, this is what happens when countries feel that they need the support of other countries. They go around and inform other countries of what they are doing,” he said.
According to Hernandez, Shabaan briefed Mr. Aquino on the options that the Syrian government was looking at to address the conflict, including “reforms, dialogue with different forces in that country and possible elections.”
“A proposal for a political solution to address the crisis in Syria (was discussed). The President of course listened to the proposal,” he said.
During the meeting, Hernandez said Mr. Aquino also extended the country’s gratitude to the Assad government for its help in evacuating Filipino workers caught in the conflict, including waiving exit visas for Filipinos and helping Philippine officials negotiate with Syrian employers to release Filipino workers with standing contracts.
“The President expressed gratitude for the help that Dr. Shabaan and the Syrian government have been according our OFWs, especially in ensuring the safety and helping facilitate their immediate repatriation,” he said.
Del Rosario said Shabaan “has been most instrumental in expediting the repatriation of our folks from Syria.” The foreign secretary had himself traveled to Syria to oversee the repatriation of Filipinos there.
“Syria has been helping us with our OFWs and especially in expediting the repatriation and making sure that our workers there are safe. So on that score, there is a good working relationship with the Syrian government and we hope this will continue on for the sake of our remaining OFWs in Syria,” said Hernandez.
The Philippines has so far repatriated 3,451 Filipino workers from Syria since April last year, when the government stepped up efforts to evacuate citizens from the war-torn country.
The DFA said a batch of 80 Filipino workers had arrived Thursday.
Some 3,000 Filipinos remain in Syria as the Philippine government continues with its efforts to locate them and convince them to come home.