A coworker and I were walking through our company’s compound to get a cup of coffee when she asked me, “Christina, what are other countries doing to get their citizens out of Lebanon?” I am not an expert on the Middle East, nor the situation in Lebanon and Israel, but I have been watching a lot more CNN and BBC, and checking the New York Times and Washington Post Web sites more obsessively than usual.
“It looks like a lot of people are being evacuated by boat,” I said. “Why?”
“Well, I was just covering a press conference at Malacanang (the Philippines’ version of the White House), and the official stance on evacuation is that Filipinos should try to hitch rides with whoever will take them. So far only the United States has agreed, but only if all their citizens are safe.”
It shouldn’t surprise me that the Philippine government’s seemingly limitless services for Filipinos working overseas would fail at a time like this. The government draws up plans for everything, and then draws up plans for drawing up more plans. But planning and action are two different things. You would think that after almost a year here I would know better. You would think I wouldn’t be surprised. But I was.
“You mean, they want Filipinos to hitchhike out of Lebanon?”
“Yeah,” she said. She was laughing a little, but she was clearly half ashamed and half annoyed with the government.
With 30 to 40 thousand Filipinos in Lebanon, you would think the government would have an evacuation plan that consisted of more than just writing letters to embassies, begging them to repatriate nationals stuck in the middle of missle attacks.
To be fair, there are a few other plans now, and some of the plans have been implemented. So far a couple hundred Filipinos were taken by bus to Damascus. When another group arrives, a chartered flight will bring them back to Manila. But that’s only about 400 people. Others have been told that they should seek shelter at a Catholic Church in Beirut. One church. Thirty to 40 thousand people. That’s a lot of hitchhikers.