Philippines evacuates Filipino workers in Tripoli as violence escalates

There are around 2,600 documented Filipinos in Libya overall. (Department of Foreign Affairs via AP)
Updated 18 April 2019
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Philippines evacuates Filipino workers in Tripoli as violence escalates

  • Embassy Chargé d’Affaires said 13 more Filipinos who requested assistance are expected to be evacuated to Tunis in the next few days

MANILA: The Philippines has begun evacuating expatriate Filipinos working in Tripoli amid escalating clashes between rival Libyan forces.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippine Embassy had evacuated the first batch of seven Filipinos — three hospital workers and four students — on Thursday morning. The seven had been taken to Tunisia where they will be repatriated to the Philippines

Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Elmer G. Cato said 13 more Filipinos who requested assistance are expected to be evacuated to Tunis in the next few days.

Cato noted that of the estimated 1,000 Filipinos in the Libyan capital, only 20 have so far requested repatriation despite the Embassy’s efforts to convince them to go home to ensure their safety. There are around 2,600 documented Filipinos in Libya overall — mostly professionals.

One of the Filipino workers, Rolando Torres, narrowly survived the barrage of rockets that struck Tripoli late Tuesday night, according to Cato. Torres was left with a wound to his forehead.

When Philippine officials came to get him Wednesday morning, Torres, a native of Nueva Ecija province, told Cato he had been working in Tripoli since 2006 and had seen the Libyan capital at its most violent but the attack last Tuesday night was different. “He now wants to go home,” said Cato.

The official said embassy workers had to scramble again on Wednesday night, following reports that rockets had struck the Al Afia Clinic, about 29 kilometers south of Tripoli, where 18 Filipinos are working. The hospital is located in Qasr bin Gashir where heavy fighting has been taking place since hostilities broke out two weeks ago.

The clinic’s owner told Philippine officials that all his Filipino staff were safe in the basement of the hospital and that he would be moving them to a safe location in the morning. But, Cato added, when embassy officials finally spoke to the staff on Thursday, they declined the offer of repatriation.

“They thanked us for the offer but said they have no plans of going. They will all be staying,” Cato said.

The embassy has since reiterated its appeal for Filipinos in Tripoli to seriously consider repatriation.

Following advice from the DFA, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) last week ordered a ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Libya “to ensure their safety and security and to avoid getting caught in the escalating violence in Libya,” according to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

This came after the DFA raised the alert level in Tripoli and some areas within a 100-kilometer radius of the capital to level three — the voluntary repatriation level.

Bello said DOLE is coordinating closely with the DFA to monitor the situation and assess the repatriation of overseas workers, as well as to ensure the workers’ safety and security.

“DOLE is ready to provide repatriation assistance to Filipino workers who (wish to) come home,” Bello said, adding that his department is also prepared, if the situation deteriorates, to deal with the forced repatriation of expats in Libya.

Bello said the deployment ban would remain in effect until the situation normalizes, or until further advice from the DFA.


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 19 July 2019
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Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

  • Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place
  • The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.