A Filipino woman cries at OWWA headquarters in Quezon Cityon Thursday, while holding the photograph of her relativewho is working in Lebanon. (Photo courtesy of AP)
THE Philippine government has been extremely slow in responding to the ongoing crisis in Lebanon, where daily bombing by Israel has turned large parts of the country into rubble. They’ve also been highly irresponsible and remiss in their duty of protecting Filipino lives abroad.With the Philippine government’s alert level only at three for Lebanon, the Department of Foreign Affairs says that this calls only for the relocation of OFWs within Lebanon itself. Only when the danger reaches level four will the government recommend evacuation from the country. This is pure idiocy and stinginess! The government is willing to risk the lives of tens of thousands of Filipinos in Lebanon in order to save a few million dollars. The absurd advice of the DFA? Seek refuge in churches!Only on Thursday, on the ninth day of the ongoing conflict, did the first group of 200 Filipinos travel by road from Beirut to Damascus in neighboring Syria, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration board authorize the release of two million dollars to fund the evacuation of Filipinos trapped in the hell-hole of Lebanon.There are an estimated 30,000 Filipinos working in Lebanon, not an insignificant number, but the Philippine government has hesitated and stalled, wringing its hands over the high cost of evacuating such a large group of people, hoping against all odds that the war would go away and emergency funds would not have to be dipped into.Think again, I say. This is a major conflict, one in the long string of Arab-Israeli battles the likes of which we haven’t seen since the infamous 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel. Then, Israeli troops led by Gen. Ariel Sharon drove deep into Lebanon, going all the way into Beirut to root out the Palestinian fighters who had been tormenting the Jewish state. This shattered the last shreds of unity binding the Lebanese state, which then descended into all-out civil war for the next 15 years.In the late 1990s, billions of dollars were poured into Lebanon by overseas Lebanese and Gulf investors to help rebuild that shattered country. Only this year had Lebanese tourism seemed like it would have a rebound from the shock of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s brutal assassination in Beirut last year. The Lebanese government had projected $2 billion in tourism revenue this year alone. No more. The Arab tourists, mostly from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have fled in horror, while tens of thousands of desperate Westerners are being shipped out of Beirut to Cyprus.One just has to flip on CNN to see that life is anything but normal in Lebanon. The Israelis have killed more than 300 Lebanese in the past week with their merciless bombing of supposed Hezbollah targets. These targets include residential high-rise apartment buildings, Beirut airport, and most of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah guerillas, in turn, have been constantly shelling Israel, their missiles hitting Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, on a daily basis.Which makes it irresponsible for the United Philippine Manpower Agencies to Israel Association to claim that “everything is normal” in Haifa. What planet are they on? It seems that greed knows no bounds, even when the lives of Filipino workers are at risk. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration is still allowing OFWs to be deployed to Israel, which is lamentable. One can only hope that there are no takers for jobs in Israel at this time.Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Cornejo claims that no OFW will be left behind in Lebanon, but then went on to say that a mandatory evacuation would not be put into a place until there was house-to-house fighting there. Which is ridiculous since Israel is waging a nasty air bombing campaign that has not left the supposedly safe Christian areas of Lebanon unharmed. Indeed, Labor Undersecretary Danilo Cruz’s assertion that most Filipinos in Lebanon were safe because they worked for Christian families and lived in Christian areas, should not be believed and should have never been uttered. No one is safe in Lebanon from the indiscriminate bombing of the Israelis. When a bomb comes down it does stop and ask you if you’re a Hezbollah member or not. It just explodes and wrecks devastation all around.The Philippine government should declare a mandatory evacuation immediately and get as many of the 30,000 Filipinos out of Lebanon as soon as possible. Gasoline is running out, electrical power is intermittent and cell phone networks have been knocked out by the Israeli air raids.Israel has bombed Lebanon into oblivion and it seems their campaign will continue for weeks if not months to come. A full-scale invasion of southern Lebanon by Israel is highly likely in the next few weeks if they don’t succeed in degrading Hezbollah’s capabilities of shelling Israel. With all of this in mind, is it really worth it for Filipinos to risk their lives for their jobs there? I don’t think so.