Between leaving Libya and staying

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Monday, August 4, 2014


IT WAS, I think, early 1987 when the localized peace talks between the government of Corazon Aquino and representatives of the National Democratic Front (NDF) broke down.

In Cebu, rebel representatives led by Fr. Rustico Tan and Jovito Plaza, who was identified with the New People’s Army (NPA), retreated back to the underground when it became obvious that the talks were not going anywhere and they felt that the military was starting to act up. Plaza was killed in one of Cebu City’s mountain barangays weeks later.

The head of the then Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police (PC-INP) in the region was, if I remember it correctly, Brig. Gen. Edgardo Abenina. Known as a psy-war expert, Abenina told the media he had already flooded the hinterlands with his troops to flush out the rebels.

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I was with a friend when we heard Abenina’s statement on the radio of one of the farmers we were visiting. You get the impression from the radio reports that government troops were already everywhere in Cebu’s mountains. The worry that violence would break out were in the eyes of my friend and the farmer. And that feeling crawled into me.

I eventually told the farmer to put off the radio. We went outside and looked at the part of the mountain where the road was visible. No movement there. We assessed the situation. Could government really “flood” the hinterlands with troops considering its limited personnel? Were things really that bad like what we were hearing on radio?

I remember those questions when I read the story about the refusal of many Filipinos who are now in Libya to heed the Philippine government’s call for them to leave.

Strife is tearing up that country, with two armed factions fighting each other and government unable to assert itself because of its weak military.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) raised the alert level in Libya to 4 last month. Reports say a Filipino construction worker was beheaded in Benghazi while a Filipino nurse was abducted and raped. Alert level 4 means mandatory repatriation by the Philippine government of Filipinos in Libya.

But reports say that out of the 13,000 Filipinos in that country, only around 1,000 responded to the government’s call. This is worrisome because some analysts have projected the situation in Libya to worsen.

I remember similar calls to leave a country that many Filipinos also didn’t heed. I could not recall the name of that country now but it was in the Middle East. Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) chose to risk staying and hold on to their jobs rather than end up being unemployed in the Philippines. That was a personal choice that government could not deter. The situation in that country later improved.

But one other reason is the individual Filipino’s objective assessment of the situation in the specific places where they are in. Libya, after all, is not a small village but is big and is composed of many regions. The situation there obviously varies from place to place. It is from their assessment of the situation that Filipinos are responding to the Philippine government’s repatriation efforts.

Of course, it is always better to be safe than sorry. That is the ideal setup. But considering the reason why most Filipinos are in Libya, that ideal won’t apply. Most of them are workers who may have to choose between the devil (the threat to their lives) and the deep blue sea (the lack of job opportunities in the Philippines).

Unfortunately for the Philippine government, it is also in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If more Filipinos die in Libya, government will surely be flogged.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 05, 2014.

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