Concerned for OFWs, Philippines urges Syria gov’t to resolve crisis
The Aquino administration has spurned calls by the United States for nations to break political and economic ties with Syria in protest of President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on antigovernment protests.
Instead, President Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on Monday appealed to the Assad government to come up with a “peaceful resolution of the situation in Syria.”
“This is the same situation that we encountered in Libya, where we also have several thousand overseas Filipino workers (OFWs),” Lacierda told reporters.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called on the world over the weekend to cut ties with Damascus, saying that the Syrian president had lost his legitimacy to lead.
About 17,000 Filipinos work in Syria. The country’s government used gunboats along with tanks and security forces on Sunday in an effort to crush an uprising in the coastal city of Latakia, killing 25 people.
The five-month prodemocracy uprising in Syria has reportedly left nearly 2,000 people dead, including more than 400 members of Syria’s security forces.
The Philippines, one of the world’s largest labor exporters, has been closely monitoring large numbers of Filipino workers caught in the conflicts that have been sweeping the Arab world.
The government was forced to evacuate thousands of Filipino workers in Libya after Nato forces launched air strikes on Tripoli and other areas of that country in a bid to stop the crackdown by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on antigovernment forces.
Reading a statement from Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario, Lacierda expressed Manila’s “deep concern” over the escalation of violence in Syria and said the Aquino administration was calling on the Syrian government to “hold the violence and ensure the safety and security of its people and all foreign nationals.”
“We therefore urge the Syrian government to address the Syrian people’s concerns and to immediately implement the reforms promised to them,” Lacierda said, quoting from Del Rosario’s statement.
The Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday again urged Philippine nationals based in three areas in Syria—Homs, Latakia and Daraa—to voluntary relocate or leave the country at their own cost, “if they have no pressing need to remain.”
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said, “We have an existing crisis alert level No. 3 (or voluntary repatriation) for these areas.”
“For the rest of Syria, it is alert level No. 2, or restriction of movements and avoidance of protest areas,” Hernandez said.
Earlier, Philippine Ambassador to Syria Wilfredo Cuyugan advised the Filipino community to “stock up on essentials like food, water and medicine, and have cash and passports ready in case things continue to go bad.”
In April, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz disclosed that only a fraction of the 17,000-plus Filipinos working in Syria were documented.
Baldoz cited Overseas Workers Welfare Administration records, which showed that there were only 837 active OWWA members or documented overseas Filipino workers in Syria.
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