Don't come to Lebanon, ambassador tells OFWs

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine ambassador to Lebanon on Saturday reminded Filipino job seekers to respect the deployment ban to the Mideastern country and spare themselves from trouble.

Ambassador Gilbert Asuque made the appeal on Vice President Noli de Castro’s radio program after members of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group under De Castro’s office stopped several would-be OFWs bound for Lebanon using tourist or visit visas.

Some of the illegally recruited workers admitted to De Castro that they were offered good salaries but were not given any contracts or documentation required by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

"Sana naman ho maintindihan ng ating mga kababayan na ang ating ginagawang total ban ay para sa kanilang kapakanan (I hope our fellow Filipinos understand that we are implementing the ban for their own sake)," Ambassador Asuque said.

Worker deployment to Lebanon was banned in 2006 when violence between Hezbollah and Israeli forces escalated.

At that time, some 6,000 OFWs, many of them undocumented, were repatriated to the Philippines. Some 26,000, however, opted to stay out of fear of losing their jobs or because they were not allowed by their employers to leave.

Despite the ban, Asuque on Saturday said the total number of Filipinos in Lebanon was estimated to have swelled to more 30,000 due to the continuing entry of Filipinos there on tourist visas.

Although many OFWs have asserted that there is no more security threat in Lebanon, Asuque said that the real problem is that there are no labor laws to protect foreign guest workers in that country.

"Tulad nung 2006, walang batas sa Lebanon na may proteksiyon ang foreign guest workers kaya ‘wag muna ho kayo pupunta dito (Just like in 2006, there are no laws in Lebanon that protect foreign guest workers, that's why you shouldn't go here yet)," he said.
"Sana ipagliban muna nila ang plano nilang magtrabaho sa Lebanon. ‘Wag ho muna, ayusin ho natin muna ang problema (I hope they will not push through with their plans to work in Lebanon. Please don't until we've fixed the problem)," he added.

He said that the ban would be only temporary, just until the Philippine government and the Department of Foreign Affairs have come up with a solution to the problem.

One of the problems, he said, is that Filipino workers are promised $300 or almost P15,000 for their minimum wage while the minimum pay in Lebanon is actually $333 or more than P16,000.

As additional proof of the lack of labor laws protecting OFWs in Lebanon, he said that there are already about 70 Filipino runaways staying at the Philippine Embassy there - most of whom are newly deployed but have already experienced several kinds of abuse.

"Ang iba ho diyan eh kadarating lang tapos nag-run away na. Yung iba nahihirapan, nalulungkot, yung iba hindi binabayaran (Some of them have just arrived but have run away already. Some suffered, some were just sad, some were not even paid)," he said.

This, he said, was because employers want to get back the money they paid the recruiter which usually amounts to $2,000 or about P98,000 – a matter which Vice President De Castro found outrageous.

"Kaya nga pumunta diyan kasi walang pera eh (But the reason they went there is because they have no money)," De Castro said during the same radio interview.

"Kaya nga bina-ban natin eh, kasi kung maganda dun, ie-encourage pa namin ang mga tao na pumunta dun (That's why we implemented the ban, because if the situation there is good, we'll even encourage you to go)" he added.

Asuque lamented that some OFWs really do not listen to government advisories.

"Ang problema sa mga kababayan natin hindi kinikilala ang total ban sa Lebanon (The problem with our fellow Filipinos is that they do not recognize the total ban to Lebanon)," he said.

He said that some who were saved in 2006 have already returned to Lebanon.

While those who entered Lebanon despite the ban did so voluntarily, Asuque said it is still the government's job to bring them home.

Meanwhile, the Philippine ambassador said that he was still thankful to the Lebanese government for trying to come up with a solution to RP's predicament.

"Tumutulong ang Lebanese government, gumagawa sila ng paraan, kaya lang di agad aksyon kasi maraming konsultasyon (The Lebanese government is helping, they are trying to find a way, however, there is no immediate action because there are many consultations)," he said.