Planes, ship ready but thousands still won't leave
MANILA, Philippines - More than 11,000 Filipinos still remain in strife-torn Libya, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
DFA spokesman Charles Jose said a ship that will fetch overseas Filipino workers and bring them to Malta is scheduled to arrive in Libya by Thursday or Friday, and return to Malta by Sunday.
"Hopefully we can have more OFWs registering for evacuation. Ang initial plan, ang magiging extraction points will be Benghazi, Misarata and hopefully Tripoli. All of these cities are coastal cities. All of them are facing Mediterranean sea," he said in a press conference.
The ship can carry up to 1,500 people, but Jose said they can arrange for additional trips if more OFWs sign up for repatriation.
Jose said the DFA is now arranging commercial flights, and a chartered Philippine Airlines plane from Malta to bring the repatriated OFWs back to the Philippines.
"They're trying to look for an appropriate plane to use for the repatriation from Malta to Manila. Depende kung gaano karami. We'll see if maraming sakay ang ship then, kasi sabi nila 777 can accommodate 350 passengers," he said.
There are reportedly 13,000 Filipinos working in Libya, but only 900 have been repatriated so far. Around 200 Filipinos are at the Philippine embassy in Tripoli, awaiting repatriation.
However, Jose noted some Filipino workers in Libya still don't want to leave despite the mandatory repatriation ordered by the DFA.
"Karaniwang sinasabi (ng OFWS) they want to take a chance, thinking they can survive the war more than the uncertainty of surviving without any work here," he said.
Other Filipinos, particularly those who are working in hospitals, are also facing pressure from their employers to remain in the country.
Libya's health officials have warned of a possible collapse of the healthcare system if all Filipino health professionals leave the country.
"Yun iba, mga medical workers may pressure din from hospitals kasi 60 percent of hospital staff ay from the Philipppines. Kung aalis lahat yun, ma-paparalyze din ang medical services doon. They are asking medical workers to please stay," Jose said.
"Syempre we would like all Filipinos to be out, pero kahit mandatory repatriation, it's still their decision whether they would come back or stay behind," he added.
The DFA is also coordinating with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas on the possibility of opening a special currency exchange facility that would allow OFWs to exchange Libyan dinar for Philippine pesos.
"We are also talking with BSP para bigyan sila ng way na if mag-uuwi sila ng local currency ay ma-convert to pesos," Jose said.
Reuters reported that fighting in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi is the worst since the 2011 civil war that ended four decades of Muammar Gaddafi's rule, increasing international worries Libya is becoming a failed state.
Three years after the war, Libya's fragile government and nascent army are unable to control heavily armed brigades of ex-rebels who refuse to disband and have allied themselves with competing political factions to become powerbrokers.
Rival factions allied to brigades from the towns of Misrata and Zintan have been fighting for nearly three weeks over control of the capital's airport, with more than 20 people killed on Sunday, and a fire raging at the city's fuel depot. - With Reuters