MANILA, SEPTEMBER 14, 2012 (PHILSTAR)By Pia Lee-Brago -Nearly
300 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) fleeing the violence in Syria returned home
yesterday in the biggest single repatriation effort negotiated between the two
The repatriates arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)
terminal in two batches on chartered flights paid for by the International
Organization for Migration (IOM).
The first batch, composed of 263 OFWs, arrived at 10 a.m. on a chartered
Jordan Aviation Airlines Flight JAV 4371.
Another batch of 17 OFWs accompanied by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael
Seguis arrived at 4:35 p.m. on Emirates Flight EK 332.
Vice President and Presidential Adviser for Migrant Workers Jejomar Binay,
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Overseas Workers Welfare
Administration chief Carmelita Dimzon welcomed the returning OFWs.
Syrian President Bashar Assad granted the request of the Philippine
government to waive the exit visa requirements for the OFWs staying at the
Philippine embassy in Damascus.
Del Rosario visited Syria last Sept. 4 and 5 and sought the assistance of
Syrian leaders in the repatriation of OFWs. He also negotiated for the waiver of
penalties and fees of the repatriates with Syria's Presidential Adviser on
Political and Media Relations Bouthaina Shaaban and Foreign Minister Walid
"Our policy is not to leave anyone behind. Anyone who wants to come home, we
will arrange for them to do that," Del Rosario said.
More OFWs from Syria arriving
Del Rosario said another group of 500 OFWs, including 400 who have finished
their contracts, is also scheduled to return home.
"The (papers) of the 400 have been arranged with the Syrian government. It is
just a matter of documentation. We are trying to see how we can book another
aircraft. As you know this aircraft was provided at zero cost by the IOM," Del
Rosario told reporters at NAIA.
Del Rosario said they also negotiated with the Syrian government for the
pullout of at least 200 Filipinos working in Aleppo.
"There is another group of about 200 whom we are going to extract from
Aleppo. Aleppo has become a war zone so people should be repatriated. The
government no longer functions in that area. We have been able to negotiate with
the Syrian government to pull them out," he added.
Del Rosario said some Filipinos remain in Syria despite the government's
policy to repatriate them because they are well taken care of by their
"There's nothing we can do. We can't force them. The same thing happened in
Libya," he said.
Ricardo Casco, executive officer of IOM, told The STAR they paid $400,000 to
repatriate the OFWs. He said around 5,000 OFWs remain in Syria.
Maria Cecilia de Caldo, a resident of Negros Oriental, thanked the government
for bringing them home. She said they traveled some 300 kilometers from Aleppo
to Damascus.
"I thought we could not make it. It's really a war zone there," said Joanna
Bulaybulay, 31, of Negros Oriental.
Normina Kanapia, 34, a resident of Cotabato, said she escaped through a
second floor window of her employer's house using a rope because she was not
allowed to go to the Philippine embassy.
Nolambai Pijcaulan Ukol, 35, of General Santos City, said her employers fled
for Saudi Arabia and left her alone in the house.
Cooperate, OFWs asked
Binay, meanwhile, urged the remaining OFWs in Syria to cooperate with the
government's repatriation efforts.
"Thousands of Filipinos remain in Syria. I urge all of them to leave because
the situation there is getting worse," he said.
Binay said the government is coordinating with other international
organizations to help in the repatriation of OFWs.
"The government has a reintegration program for the repatriated OFWs. Those
who are members of the Pag-IBIG Fund will get moratorium in the payment of their
housing loans and they will also get their contributions," he said.
Pinoy workers recount ordeal in Syria (The
Philippine Star) Updated September 13, 2012 12:00 AMComments (6)

[PHOTO -Two of the overseas Filipino workers who fled the civil war
in Syria cry upon arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on a flight
chartered by the International Organization for Migration on Tuesday. AP]
MANILA, Philippines - Ruth Pana, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Syria,
vividly remembers the bullet-riddled windows of her employer's house in
She also remembers Syrian troops killing the son of her employer.
"His chest was opened like there was large steel that passed through it," she
said, sobbing.
"Do you know that we buried him at the back of the house because there were
no more cemeteries?"
Pana escaped to the Philippine embassy in Damascus before she was repatriated
home on an evacuation flight.
She was among nearly 300 Filipino workers who fled the worsening civil war in
the biggest single repatriation effort negotiated between the Philippines and
On Tuesday, the International Organization of Migration flew them home.
They brought with them tales of horror and sleepless nights as violence
between government forces and rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President
Bashar Assad spiraled out of control.
The 29-year-old Pana said her employer supported the opposition and his son
was killed during a recent demonstration.
After the family's house where she lived and worked was shattered by bullets,
they all fled to a neighbor's basement to escape being caught in the crossfire
between government troops and the rebels.
Pana said rebels occupied a military camp behind her employer's residence,
but the military launched a counter-attack and bombardment last week using
"If you could just see the bodies, you would be throwing up," she said.
She said when her employer and his family moved to a rented house, she
contacted the Philippine embassy, which sent a car that took her away to the
care of Filipino diplomats until she was repatriated.
Her employer initially didn't want her to leave as she was still under
contract, but later relented, Pana said.
Glemer Cabidog, 34, a caretaker of a villa in Damascus for a wealthy Kuwaiti
businessman, said she would not have returned home if not for the civil war.

"We asked permission from our employer but after three months... he said he
won't allow us to leave," she said. "That's why we escaped."
Cabidog, who was paid $200 a month, said she and another Filipino worker at
the villa decided to leave after a clash two weeks ago between Syrian troops and
demonstrators in their neighborhood.
"We didn't want to die there," she said.
She said they made arrangements with the Philippine embassy to pick them up a
week later.
Cabidog said her employer has stayed in Kuwait for the last nine months.
She would get food and other provisions after requesting for supplies from
one of his secretaries, who would have them delivered to the compound, she
The 263 Filipinos had sought refuge at the embassy until Foreign Affairs
Secretary Albert del Rosario traveled to Syria last week to arrange their
Some of the women were crying as they waited for officers from the Overseas

Workers Welfare Administration to process their papers.
Del Rosario said up to 600 more OFWs want to return home.
An estimated 3,000 have decided to stay in Syria for the time being, he
Pag-IBIG payment
OFWs repatriated from Syria will receive their Pag-IBIG contributions and
will have a moratorium on the payment of their loans, Vice President Jejomar
Binay said yesterday.
The chairman of the Pag-IBIG Fund said the last batch of OFWs repatriated
from Syria may receive their contributions amounting to as much as P100,000
each. – AP, Jose Rodel Clapano

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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