MANILA: The Philippines and Libya are looking to explore opportunities for defense cooperation based on their “shared experiences” in fighting Daesh, the Philippines’ charge d’affaires and embassy head of mission in Tripoli, Elmer Cato, told Arab News.
“The Philippines and Libya could cooperate in such areas as counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing. We shared our experience fighting Daesh in Marawi and Sirte,” Cato said following his meeting with Libya’s Defense Minister Salahuddin Al-Nimroush on Sept. 21, referring in part to a five-month siege which pitted Filipino forces against Daesh-inspired militants, and the eight months of fighting to liberate Sirte from the group.
“In Sirte, a number of nurses were taken hostage by ISIS (Daesh) but later managed to escape. In Derna, four Filipino oil workers were taken and later executed, but their bodies have not yet been recovered. We continue to work with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in recovering the remains of our four countrymen,” he said.
He added, however, that the meeting — which included discussions on language training and military-to-military exchanges — was only “exploratory” and intended to see how the Philippines could expand ties “with one of our closest friends” in Africa.
“Cyberdefense was (also) brought up because the minister (Al-Nimroush) was an IT expert,” Cato said, before thanking him for giving the Philippine navy vessel BRP Gabriela Silang permission to enter Libyan waters and evacuate Filipinos “at the height of the fighting” in Tripoli earlier this year.
“We took the opportunity to express our appreciation to Libya for approving our request for the BRP Gabriela Silang to enter Libyan waters and dock in Tripoli, in case we needed to evacuate Filipinos,” he said.
Al-Nimroush expressed his appreciation for the Philippine’s continued presence in Tripoli through its embassy as “one of several countries that chose to keep their diplomatic missions open” and praised Filipino nurses and workers in the oil sector for their “important role” in Libya.
“The minister thanked us ... for being true friends of Libya. He said he and the Libyan people appreciated the fact that we kept our embassy in Tripoli open and allowed our people to continue caring for their sick and in helping them pump their oil. We told him that’s what friends are for,” Cato said.
He added that while Al-Nimroush “had been around Southeast Asia,” he never had the chance to visit the Philippines.
“He told me ‘when I do get the chance to visit, I will go scuba diving in Palawano,’” Cato said.
The Philippines recently won the Best Overseas Diving Award 2020 during the 28th Marine Diving Fair held at the Sunshine City Convention Center in Tokyo, Japan.
Cebu, Bohol, Moalboal, and Busuanga, all of which are teeming with whale sharks, snappers, dugong, and other exotic species, are some of the most popular diving sites in the Philippines.
Cato’s meeting with Al-Nimroush followed talks with Libyan Foreign Minister Faraj Abdelrahman Abumtary earlier this month, where the two discussed the state of Philippine-Libya relations and steps to strengthen bilateral ties.
This was in addition to discussing the measures taken by Libyan authorities to ensure the well-being of more than 2,300 Filipinos residing in the country.