By Faye P. Velasco
MANILA, April 24 (PNA) – In line with President Benigno S. Aquino III’s mandate to ensure the safety of Filipinos in Libya and make sure no one is left behind, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario led a reaction team to pick up in Zitlin five Filipino nurses and one engineer who were earlier trapped in Misrata for 23 days, and brought them to Tripoli.
“The Department will continue to help Filipinos wanting to go out of Libya, and ensure their safety and welfare,”the DFA said.
Zitlin is the town closest to Misrata.
Del Rosario recounted that he, accompanied by Undersecretary Rafael Seguis and Ambassador Alejandrino Vicente, proceeded to Misrata and was a few kilometers away from the war-torn city when he was stopped by Libyan government forces from proceeding further due to heavy fighting in the area and radar detection of NATO aircraft approaching the city.
The six rescued Filipinos will join 28 others, including nine nurses recently brought out of Tripoli through the Tunisian border, who will fly out of Djerba on Monday (April 25).
The five Filipino nurses rescued along with Vincent Sanchez, an engineer, were Evangeline Garcia, Evjoalyn Calam, Catherine Galue, Valerie Joy Ventura and Celeste Cambangay. They were among the seven nurses working in National Oncology Institute in Misrata who were reported as having been abducted and listed as missing. The embassy is verifying the status of the two other nurses.
They recounted that in the morning of March 18, 2011, government forces stormed the area where they were residing and camped beside their residence, just across the street where opposition forces were stationed. What followed were days of non-stop fighting.
The Filipino workers were unable to leave because snipers from either side readily shot anyone seen on the street. In fact, one of the nurses was shot by a sniper, but was lucky that it was the powdered milk she was carrying that was hit.
Out of humanitarian compassion, the nurses risked their lives to treat the wounded soldiers. Garcia and Calam said that they had to break into an abandoned pharmacy across the street to get medicines and tools to treat and even perform surgical procedures on the casualties.
Because of their service, the Filipinos were transferred by government troops to a safer place. Twenty-three days later, they found themselves in Zlitin, the town closest to west of Misrata where they were rescued by embassy officials.
â€œWe never expected na ililigtas kami. Gusto lang namin na maibigay sa embassy ang pangalan namin (We never expected to be rescued. We only wanted our names given to the embassy),â€ one of the nurses said when their group reached Zlitin.
Expressing gratitude for the governmentâ€™s help, another nurse said: â€œNever namin naisip na pinabayaan kami ng gobyerno, kasi desisyon namin mag-stay (We never thought that the government abandoned us. It was our decision to stay [in Misrata].â€
About 100 Filipinos, including 13 nurses, are still in Misrata.
Out of 26,000 Filipinos, less than 2,000 have remained in Libya. Of this, an estimated 1,600 are nurses with dependents mostly in Tripoli.
This is the third time Del Rosario went to Libya. The first was on February 25, where he led a group of over 400 Filipinos to Tunisia. The second was on March 22, where he made a final call for Filipinos to leave Libya, while accompanying 33 Filipinos out of Tripoli. That time, he also met with a large group of nurses who expressed that they preferred to stay.
Del Rosario left for Libya, via Paris, on Tuesday. He returned to Manila Saturday night.
Before going to Misrata, Del Rosario met with two Libyan ministers to make representations for the safety and welfare of the remaining Filipinos in Libya.
During his meeting with Libyan Foreign Minister Adelati Obeidi, Del Rosario sought assistance in reaching the about 100 Filipinos in Misrata and bringing out those who wish to leave. Obeidi promised to enlist the help of personnel from the United Nations to get the Filipinos out of Misrata where fighting for control continues between government and opposition forces.
The DFA secretary also brought to the foreign ministerâ€™s attention the case of the four Filipinas working in the household of Sahal Shareef, nephew of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who have reportedly expressed desire to go home. Obeidi assured Del Rosario that the four would be brought to the embassy to be asked whether they really would want to go home.
Del Rosario further requested if the governmentâ€™s financial institutions could offer a facility through which Filipinos in Libya can remit money to their families in the Philippines, and allow Filipinos to exchange their Libyan dinars to dollars.
The Libyan foreign minister aired the difficulty caused by the closure of international banking operations and by the freezing of Libyan governmentâ€™s assets, but promised to study the two requests.
The secretary also met with Libyan Health Minister Mohammed Hijaze, who confirmed that out of 23 nurses in Misrata, 13 are still there.