The government has banned the deployment of Filipino workers to Libya as civil war has erupted again in the north African country.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) declared Alert Level 3 on Monday night and urged some 1,000 Filipinos working in and around the Libyan capital, Tripoli, to consider getting themselves repatriated as soon as possible to avoid getting caught in the middle of the fighting in Libya.
Most of the Filipino workers are in the health care and construction sectors.
Under Alert Level 3, an automatic deployment ban is imposed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on both new hires and returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
The Department of Labor and Employment has yet to officially declare the ban, barely three months after it partially lifted a similar prohibition.
In January, the DFA lowered the crisis alert to level 2, four months after a total ban was imposed due to the many cases of Filipinos being kidnapped in Libya.
Those still bound by employment contracts were allowed to return to the Philippines, while those in the area were advised to restrict nonessential movements and avoid public places.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Tuesday appeared to have not been informed about the DFA’s latest declaration.
In a radio interview, Bello said he and other labor officials were just waiting for word from the DFA on whether the situation in Libya would merit the reclassification of the crisis alert.
“As soon as we receive the official report, we will have to come up with a governing board resolution of the POEA declaring a total ban [on] deployment to Libya,” Bello said
In declaring Alert Level 3, the DFA saw no need to get Filipino workers out of Libya as the eastern Libyan forces of Gen. Khalifa Haftar closed in on the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. The DFA, however, called for their voluntary repatriation.
Alert Level 4, the highest, calls for mandatory evacuation.
The Philippine Embassy in Tripoli acknowledged the need to raise the crisis alert level “following the escalation of the fighting that included the shelling of residential areas on the outskirts of the capital.”
“Filipinos in areas near the fighting should move to safer areas or [request assistance from the embassy for] their repatriation before the fighting intensifies,” the DFA said in a statement.
The foreign office, however, limited the alert level to Tripoli and adjacent areas within a 100-kilometer radius. These are Tajoura, Ghot Romman, Qaraboli and Qasr Khiyar to the east of the capital; Esbea, Tarhuna, Bani Waled and Gharyan to the south; and Aziziya, Warshifana, Zawia, Surman and Sabratha to the west.
Reports said dozens of people had been killed while thousands had fled as fighters under the rival Libyan National Army led by General Haftar clashed with forces under the UN-backed Government of National Accord.
Tripoli’s only functioning airport was hit by an airstrike on Monday.
On Sunday, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. angrily reacted to a query on Twitter whether the DFA would raise the alert level in Libya.
“You wanna tell that to the Filipinos who need to work there to make ends meet. ‘Putangina.’ When all hell breaks loose we in DFA will be in the fucking line of fire because we are not Yellow,” Locsin said.
Sen. Nancy Binay on Tuesday urged government agencies to set up emergency hotlines that the families of Filipino workers in Libya could call to be apprised of the status of their relatives.
The Philippines stopped the deployment of Filipino workers to Libya in 2011 during the first Libyan civil war that led to the ouster and death of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
At the time, and also after the second Libyan civil war broke out in 2014, then Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario flew to Libya and nearby Tunisia to supervise the repatriation of thousands of Filipino workers from the north African country.