Lebanon Update: Palace creates new task force
OPS Press Release, August 1 — In an effort to intensify further all preparations and evacuation plans for Filipino migrant workers caught in the crossfire in war-torn Lebanon, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has issued Executive Order 551 creating a task force for their repatriation.
The EO, which the President signed last July 26, aims to enlist the assistance not only of government agencies, but also other foreign governments and international relief organizations in preparation for a worse case scenario.
The Task Force is chaired by Vice President Noli de Castro with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo as vice chair; Labor Secretary Arturo Brion as co-vice chair; and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral, and Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye as members.
The powers and functions of the Task Force are the following:
To coordinate the planning and implementation of plan of actions in the repatriation of OFWs and other Filipino nationals caught in conflict-affected areas brought about by the fighting in southern Lebanon;
To coordinate with other governments, through their embassies and other international organizations like the Red Cross, Red Crescent, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and enlist whatever assistance they may be able to provide in the effort to bring our OFWs out of harmâ€™s way.
To ensure that all possible sources such as airplanes, sea vessels, vehicles, including funds are made available in a timely manner in order to effectively and efficiently undertake the transport of our OFWs out of the conflict-affected areas and back to the Philippines;
To involve the different diplomatic posts of the Philippines near the conflict-affected areas in the effort to bring our OFWs out of harmâ€™s way.
Through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), assist repatriated OFWs by way of reprocessing them for possible re-deployment elsewhere;
Through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Health (DOH), assist arriving OFWs needing de-stress and medical attention.
Under the EO, the POEA, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Office of the Presidential Middle East Preparedness Committee, the Office of the Special Envoy to the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Commission on Filipino Overseas (CFO) will serve as support agencies to the Task Force.
The DFA and the DOLE will jointly provide technical and administrative support.
Meanwhile, Andaya said he has forwarded to Congress a request for an additional P500 million as standby fund in their proposed supplemental budget.
In a press briefing in Malacanang, Andaya said the P500 million will serve as standby fund in case there is a shortage in the expenses for the evacuation of the OFWs.
For his part, Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio R. Bunye called on the nation to rally behind the initial gains of the governmentâ€™s repatriation efforts, pointing out that the administration is keenly focused on the Lebanon crisis and in taking Filipinos out of harmâ€™s way in a war-torn Lebanon.
He said the government will not allow its officials and instrumentalities “to be pilloried by another round of political circus and media grandstanding.”
“The entire nation must rally behind the initial gains of our repatriation efforts and no amount of political noise will set back our resolve to ensure the safety and welfare of the remaining OFWs in Lebanon, and bring them home or to safer sanctuary elsewhere,” Bunye said in a statement. ###
Blogger’s Note: As Israel resumes and expands its ground war operations after a brief respite, our only thought — the one and only goal that must be uppermost in everyone’s minds — is to get as many of our workers out of Lebanon. If by creating a new task force, this objective has better chances of success, then let’s grant it our unconditional support. Never mind that such a task force should have been created in the early days of the crisis. Let’s just do it. The sooner we have a clearer policy regarding government’s evacuation plans, the faster our people in the field can act. Time is of the essence in seeking our workers out and bringing them to safety.