DFA: First batch of 229 OFWS and 3 infants arrived today from Lebanon
23 July 2006 â€” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo welcomed back to the Philippines the first batch of 232 OFWs including three infants who arrived at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City at 2:35 p.m., Sunday, 23 July 2006 after their repatriation from Beirut, Lebanon via Damascus, Syria.
â€œWe shall spare no cost in ensuring the safety of our workers in Lebanon, including their repatriation to the Philippines,â€ Secretary Romulo said at a command conference of Vice President Noli de Castro and the Secretary on 21 July 2006 at the DFA with members of the DFAâ€™s Team Lebanon in Lebanon, Israel and Syria, namely Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Special Concerns Rafael E. Seguis, who was in Damascus to assist the OFWs; Ambassador Roy Cimatu, head of the Presidential Middle East Preparedness Team, who is in Beirut to oversee the implementation of Oplanâ€”Sagip OFW sa Lebanon; ChargÃ© dâ€™Affaires, a. i. (CDA) of the Philippine Embassy in Beirut Walter Salmingo; and Philippine Ambassador to Israel Antonio C. Modena.
Secretary Romulo stated, â€œIf more OFWs wish to be repatriated home, they will be repatriated. President Arroyo has pledged that we will exhaust all available means to ensure the safety of our people in Lebanon.â€
The Secretary said that for those Filipinos who wish to leave Lebanon, the Government is assisting in their departure; for Filipinos who wish to remain in Lebanon, the Government is working on finding temporary shelter away from the most dangerous areas.
â€œThe President has released PhP150 million in funds to cover the cost of transport, supplies and communication associated with repatriating OFWs from Lebanon, and other resources will be found as they are required,â€ Secretary Romulo said, adding â€œPresident Arroyo has also ordered all diplomatic posts to ensure that all possible assistance is given to OFWs in this crisis zone who are seeking shelter or evacuation.â€
The Secretary stated, â€œWe will exert every effort until every Filipino who wishes to leave Lebanon is able to do so. As all countries with nationals in Lebanon are aware, this is not an easy task, but is one that we are committed to carrying out as quickly as possible.â€
Yesterday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the Philippine Embassy and the Presidential Middle East Preparedness Team in Lebanon to raise Alert Level 4 only in southern Lebanon as the Israeli Defense Forces enter Lebanon to establish a buffer zone. The Philippine Embassy in Lebanon and Ambassador Cimatu are organizing the evacuation of the OFWs from Southern Lebanon and preparing for the repatration to the Philippines of the next group.
Following is the sequence of events in relation to the repatriation of the first batch of OFWs from Lebanon, all based on Lebanon/Syria time (the Philippines is five hours ahead) :
Thursday, 20 July 2006, around 9:00 a.m. â€“ First batch of 190 OFWs leaves the Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church, Sassine, Beirut aboard five tourist buses bound for Damascus, Syria.
Thursday, 20 July 2006, around 8:00 p.m. â€“ First batch of OFWs arrives in Damascus, Syria and stays at the Living Saint Elias Monastery in Damascus prior to the flight to Manila. Early in the afternoon, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Special Concerns Rafael E. Seguis, Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Al Francis Bichara (who has concurrent jurisdiction in Syria), and Philippine Honrary Consul in Syria Fadi Debahy meet the first batch at the Lebanon-Syria border to facilitate the immigration requirements of the Filipinos. Undersecretary Seguis and Consul Debahy accompany the OFWs from the Syrian border checkpoint to the monastery for temporary lodging while Ambassador Bichara proceeds to Beirut.
Friday, 21 July 2006, around 9:00 a.m. â€“ The second batch of 107 OFWs leaves the Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Beirut to catch up with the first batch of OFWs already in Damascus. Ambassador Bichara sends off the second batch from Beirut.
Friday, 21 July 2006, around 8:00 p.m. â€“ The second batch of OFWs arrives in Damascus, Syria and joins up with the first batch. Undersecretary Seguis and Consul Debahy facilitate their immigration papers at the Syrian border. The 297 OFWs rest at the Living Saint Elias Monastery after the long travel by bus from Beirut to Damascus and to prepare for the flight to Manila. Team Lebanon also finalizes the arrangement for the chartered flight.
Saturday, 22 July 2006, around 4:15 p.m. – The chartered Jordan Aviation JAV 3911 takes off from the Damascus International Airport with 232 OFWs including three infants. As the plane could only carry a maximum of 300 passengers, 65 OFWs are left behind in Damascus as Undersecretary Seguis and Consul Debahy make separate arrangements for their flight to Manila.
Sunday, 23 July 2006, 2:35 p.m. (Philippine time). – JAV 3911 arrives at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City after technical stops in Karachi, Pakistan; and Dhaka, Bangladesh.