Ground war in Lebanon?
We must move our countrymen out of southern Lebanon and Beirut at a quicker pace. All dependable hands and swift thinkers in our embassies across the huge swathe of the Middle East must be harnessed and mobilized for this effort. Think of this — those who are working in Lebanon are women domestic helpers, some of who may have just arrived there or could have been deployed abroad for the very first time. It is different to have bombs from a distance, with its intermittent blasts quaking the earth and causing sirens to blare. But gunfire — up close and personal — between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah guerrillas, fierce warriors of their own beliefs, how can our workers cope with that fear? I know that Walter Salmingo, our courageous deputy ambassador in Beirut, had declared that the bomb blasts occur only in certain areas. But there are no templates for wars;I’d rather see a massive effort to keep our workers out of Beirut and in the mountains or on flights headed for home, than to anticipate and hope for a contained battle. This impending ground war may be the reason wealthier nations have been hiring cruise liners, sending Chinooks and other aircraft, and dropping Marines to search out and bring home their own nationals. Where are our military attaches? They should be involved in the evacuation planning because they understand how war works. We have in the retired service former ambassadors and labor attaches who were there in previous crises in Lebanon. Can they not be consulted as well? I do know that the DFA, DOLE and OWWA and our posts in Lebanon, Israel and Greece are doing its best to cope with the crisis. How more can government and us help them?
Here are my suggestions:
1) Use the free phone services to give OFW families a set of instructions and telephone numbers that they can pass on to their relatives in Lebanon. Crisp, up-to-date and simple instructions will help these OFWs get a sense of strategic direction in case the war escalates. In the same manner, these families availing of the 3-minute call (can’t it be at least 4 minutes?), can be given a set of standard questions to ask: address, mindset of employer, access to food, health concerns, nearest church, etc. The answers to these questions may be life-saving if our embassy is able to execute the right plan.
2) How many people do we have in our embassy in Beirut? These embassy personnel also have their own families to think of. Bombarded with instructions and faced with enormous challenges, these embassy staff and officers may be saddled with too much pressures, and very little rest. Why not immediately augment the size of our personnel with experienced career diplomats known to have kept their wits about in times of crises? Let’s start identifying teams — not persons — but entire teams that can take care of different manhunts and evacuation operations with great autonomy and sufficient budgets.
3) Instead of a blanket appeal to wealthy governments who are busy with their own nationals, can we target three to five allies that can really help our workers? For example, Denmark has been praised for its quiet efficiency in moving out more than 5,000 nationals in the very early days of the war. Can we not tap them (read: outsource) for a joint mission to help out our OFWs as well? Every top official in government is saying that we have enough funds. Let’s spend them.
4) Here’s the thing — whatever the President says in her SONA, the backdrop will still be our workers in Lebanon. Rather than hear quite a bit about mega-regions (that will still be in the mid-term), I’d like to hear her define the roadmap for the safe (immediate) return of our workers. And please, don’t invite the returnees from Beirut to sit in the gallery as “modern heroes and special guests”.
Why am I sounding frantic all of a sudden? I just read this on the BBC website:
Israel calls up army reservists
“Israel has called up thousands of reserve troops and told civilians to quit southern Lebanon immediately, amid threats of a large-scale incursion.
Israeli troops are already fighting Hezbollah inside Lebanon and have been heavily shelling the border area.
Correspondents in Tyre say the sound of explosions is constant, and with villages cut off and roads severed, people are in grave peril. “
Before I end this entry, I would just like to say — that at this time, my heart really goes out to our workers, their families, and the officials and staff of the DFA, DOLE, and OWWA. I know quite a lot of them personally and can vouch for their sincerity and compassion for our workers.Let’s face it — nobody really wanted this war and certainly, we must not be ashamed to say that we were initially not completely prepared for it. Courage, compassion and our faith in the Divine will see us through this as one nation, global in reach but hopelessly and lovingly parochial at heart.
Update: I was able to talk to OWWA Administrator Marianito Roque and shared with him the idea of giving OFW families who avail of the libreng tawag service a list of questions to ask from their relatives in Lebanon. This way, the embassy and our people on the ground can have more inputs and insights on how to better execute its evacuation plan. Another urgent update, the DFA has decided to raise the alert level from 3 to 4, meaning our OFWs will now be moved to safer places. Again, let’s pray for the success of this joint DFA-DOLE mission to get our workers in Lebanon and northern Israel out of harm’s way.