MANILA, May 18, 2008 (STAR) By Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine government has sought the assistance of Lebanon in its efforts to protect the welfare of an estimated 30,000 Filipino workers there especially during emergency situations, an embassy report said yesterday.

In his report to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Charge d’ Affaires and Consul General Gilberto G.B. Asuque of the Philippine Embassy in Lebanon sought the Lebanese government’s assistance during a courtesy call on Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants Fawzi Salloukh at the MFAE office in Bustros Palace, Beirut.

Asuque said Salloukh assured the Philippines of the government’s assistance in the Embassy’s efforts to protect Filipinos in Lebanon and to address issues concerning the employment conditions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Asuque also expressed the great interest of the Philippines in current developments in Lebanon, especially the dialogue among the political parties to address the country’s major concerns.

Despite a total ban on the deployment of OFWs to Lebanon, Filipinos are still being flown to the war-torn country by manpower agencies that have established Cebu as staging point for the illegal deployment.

This was disclosed yesterday by Vice President Noli De Castro after receiving reports about the unauthorized deployment of OFWs to Lebanon.

De Castro, head of Task Force Lebanon, urged the public to observe the total ban on the deployment of OFWs to Lebanon.

He explained that the task force found that more crises have erupted in Lebanon, making the country even more dangerous for the OFWs, and this led them to make the recommendation for the ban.

The Vice President has directed the task force – composed of officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) – to address the situation.

De Castro also urged the public not to avail of the services of illegal recruiters promising jobs in Lebanon as the POEA is no longer processing work contracts for Lebanon-bound OFWs.

Without a valid work contract, the welfare of the illegal entrants might be difficult to assure.

De Castro cited as example the tragic fate of an OFW who died in Lebanon last year who was reported by POEA and OWWA as an undocumented worker.

Amelyn Albores Sayson, a domestic helper, died from injuries sustained after she jumped from a building in Beirut.

Meantime, Migrante International, the alliance of Filipino Migrant Organizations, estimated that over 10,000 OFWs are stranded in the Middle East, with some detained in jails or wandering aimlessly in the streets while others are stuck in miserable shelters.

The group said around 200 Filipinos are trapped and stranded in Jordan and Kuwait.

Carlos Rebutar, spokesperson of the stranded OFWs, claimed that workers were left to fend for themselves by Philippine embassy officials in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, without any food, medicine, or other basic necessities.

He added that recently, hundreds of runaway OFWs were forced to camp out for months under the Al-Kandhara Bridge in Jeddah and stay inside cramped deportation centers as they waited for their repatriation.

Rebutar also claimed that he and his six companions were duped by RP Consul General Essedin Tago who allegedly made them believe that they will be repatriated immediately if they subject themselves to deportation proceedings. – With Perseus Echeminada, Karla Verzonilla

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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