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 harm’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 harm’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 government’s repatriation efforts, pointing out that the administration is keenly focused on the Lebanon crisis and in taking Filipinos out of harm’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.

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • Toots,

    I’ve been following this operation since day one, I hope this task force is for real. I hate to see another “press release” from the palace. This is the problem with the administration, they think first of how many dollars they can squeeze out of our OFWs before tackling their welfare and safety.

  • I hope that they act soon given Israel’s refusal to consider an immediate ceasefire. Also worth considering is the continued UN pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program or else, diplomatic and economic sanctions may be applied. Our country is particularly vulnerable on two fronts, our OFWs numbering more than a million in the region, and oil which even now is already too prohibitive for our pockets.

  • jinxies

    02 August 2006

    As the task has been created, at yesterdays meeting convened by the the Vice President, it has been noticeable, that the government has no plans for the total evacuation, repatriation or whatever you call it, part of the plan is to move our OFWs from the south to the north of lebanon, the question is what’s the next move after that??? Its good that we are planning for the evacuation, but it is only a short term solution, what happen if it escalates from the neighboring country, such as syria, egypt, jordan and other countries who hates israel??? what the government should come up is a long term-solution, we should not only focused on lebanon, but to other countries where there are a large concentration of OFWs. My other question is why the vice president??? is there nobody who is able and capable of doing things??? I have my reservation on the leadership of the vice president??? especially his leadership. If you only know the man, I’m telling you………..mahirap na lang magsalita.

    jinx