For helping OFWs, honorary consul gets honors

By Aurea Calica, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 22 2014 02:50 AM | Updated as of Jan 22 2014 10:50 AM

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino cited yesterday the Philippines' honorary consul general to Aleppo for helping protect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) during the armed conflict in Syria.

Aquino conferred the Order of Sikatuna (Grand Officer) on Mohamad Wassim Nanaa in a ceremony at Malacañang yesterday.

Nanaa’s jurisdiction includes Idlib, Hama and Latakia in the Syrian Arab Republic.

The President commended Nanaa for promoting and protecting the welfare and safety of at least 1,000 OFWs in his jurisdiction during the armed conflict.

He thanked Nanaa for helping repatriate the OFWs as he noted his personal sacrifices in order to serve the Filipinos.

“This is aside from Nanaa’s work in promoting Philippine cultural and economic diplomacy in Syria and in bringing the Syrians closer to Filipinos,” Aquino said.

Nanaa has been the country’s honorary consul since 2008.

When the OFWs expressed desire to escape the civil war in Syria, he responded and went beyond his duty to assist them in going home.

While affluent Syrians flee to key cities to escape the conflict, he stayed behind to help Filipinos.

The consul had to negotiate personally with the Syrian employers to release and pay the OFWs.

Often he had to pay with his own money for the transfer and travel arrangements of the Filipino workers.

He is one of only three consuls who remain in Aleppo. The two others, in Armenia and Iraq, are both career consular officers. The rest had fled to neighboring countries to escape the conflict.

At the onset of the hostilities in Syria particularly in Aleppo, one of the key targets of the rebel forces, Nanaa sent his wife and daughters to Lebanon.

He stayed behind, believing he had a duty to perform and was the only one who could help repatriate the OFWs. His family stayed in Beirut for three months and has recently returned to Aleppo.

Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) accompanied Nanaa during a courtesy call on Vice President Jejomar Binay who congratulated him and said the honor the consul was receiving was normally reserved for officials of higher rank.

Binay told him an exception was made owing to his outstanding service to the country.

The DFA also requested the office of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. for a courtesy call with him today.

People who know Nanaa said the consul loves the country more than most Filipinos, as he built the Philippine consulate in Aleppo at his own expense before the start of the Arab Spring.

“He travels to the Philippines regularly, always in search of products that he can sell to the Gulf region. He has been working hard on getting a Jollibee franchise as he believes Syrians will love it,” an expatriate said.

For his trip to Manila, his parents Riad and Adla accompanied him.

“He is very humble and approachable. When I asked him if he would consider telling his story to one of the newspapers, he said he would be honored if anyone would listen to his story. He said he’s just trying his best to do his duty,” the expat added.

Filipino citizenship

Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Al Francis Bichara, chairman of the House committee on foreign relations, said the chamber would soon act on his bill granting Filipino citizenship to Nanaa.

Bichara said the proposal to grant Nanaa Filipino citizenship was fitting as the Syrian risked his life and spent his own money for the welfare of the OFWs.

He said the House was not able to immediately act on the proposal, as lawmakers were busy working on the 2014 national budget last year.

“He deserves this honor as he worked very hard to help our countrymen,” Bichara said. – With Paolo Romero