Monday, July 31, 2006

Filipinos in Lebanon Need Help

While the United States and other western governments were able to evacuate most of their citizens within a week of Israel's rain of bombs on Lebanon, residents from poorer countries have not been so lucky.

After three weeks of Israeli bombing that has taken the lives of more than 500 people, and rendered more than a million people homeless, only a fraction of the 30,000 to 34,000 Filipinos there have been able to safely flee to Syria and return to the Philippines.

Most of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Lebanon are domestic workers whose employers have become refugees like them. While most are in Beirut or in northern Lebanon, approximately 2,000 OFWs are in southern Lebanon, where the bombing has been especially ferocious.

Although there have been no reported casualties yet, Lebanese Consul to the Philippines Joseph F.K. Assad expressed concern for their safety.

"I worry that there are Filipino casualties, especially in Saida, Tyre, Qana and Sur, which are cities in southern Lebanon," Assad said in an interview with a Manila daily.

This concern increased with the news that two Israeli bombs on a residential building in Qana on July 30 had killed more than 60 people, including 37 children.

Assad said he was aware that the Philippine Embassy in Beirut under Ambassador Al Francis Bichara was doing everything humanly possible to get the Filipinos out of southern Lebanon. "It's impossible to evacuate all. It's very hard," Assad said. "I just hope they got as many Filipinos out as they could but I doubt if they were able to get all," he said.

According to Assad, all roads leading out of the southern part of the country had been destroyed in the bombings, making flight to safety virtually impossible.

"It's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. The Israelis would drop leaflets telling the people to get out of their homes because they (Israelis) might bomb the place. But once they are on the road, the bombs would fall," Assad said.

Once the Filipinos reach Beirut, they can proceed to a Filipino sanctuary that has been established in the Convent of the Lady of Miraculous Medal by Fr. Agustin
"Gestie" Advincula, a Filipino priest. About 700 Filipino refugees are crammed daily in the convent.

Dr. Arsenio Martin, a Filipino physician in Port Arthur, Texas, contacted Fr. Advincula to find out what Filipinos in America can do to help him. In an email to the Filipino American community, Dr. Martin wrote: "I called Fr. Agustin Advincula today and conversed for approximately 40 minutes (he had to excuse himself to offer mass) regarding what his congregation is doing to help the Filipinos in Lebanon."

"Today there are almost 700 people in his convent, they are sleeping on their Convent Hall floor and some are sleeping outside in their "gardens or landscape"
grounds. Fr. Gestie really needs help because they have to feed (and other support) our compatriots.

"After the first 200 Filipinos left their convent, another 200 came in so the Convent is constantly supporting around 700 people every day. He said that a fellow priest from Australia sent him $230.00 yesterday and he used that solely for water supply (drinking and for sanitary purposes) so you can imagine the expenses that they are incurring for our stranded kababayans.

"He also echoed a concern on the delay of our kababayans to reach the Philippines. The "bottleneck" is in Damascus, Syria because of the more than 200 Filipinos that left Beirut yesterday (they have to pass through Syria), only a few flew back home because of the availability of airplane seats and the chartered plane by the Philippine government can not cope with this exodus (there are almost 30,000
Filipinos that wants to go back home at this time.) There is a Monastery that can house them temporarily in Syria but this is 100 KM. away from the airport.

"Fr. Gestie Advincula said that any monetary donation can be sent thru Western Union."

Dr. Martin is working with the Filipino Disaster Relief Taskforce (FDRT) of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) that was set up in Houston last year to deal with the Filipinos who were evacuated to Houston from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Arlene Machetta, chair of the NaFFAA Southwest Region, is coordinating the NaFFAA relief efforts for the Filipino refugees in Lebanon. She is asking Filipino Americans to generously send donations to Fr Advincula of the Convent of the Lady of Miraculous Medal in Beirut, Lebanon via Western Union.

Donations made out to "NAFFAA" for the Filipino refugees in Lebanon will be accepted at the Southwestern National Bank c/o Tito Refi/ FDRT-NaFFAA, 6901 Corporate Drive, Houston, TX 77036.

Filipino Christians are familiar with the town of Qana (or Cana) as the place where Jesus Christ performed his first public miracle, the changing of water into wine at a wedding feast there.

Donations are badly needed now for another miracle, the turning of despair into hope.

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