MANILA, Philippines??I?m not happy to be back,? acting Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said upon his return to Manila from his four-day trip to North Africa where he helped bring to safety some 400 Filipinos from strife-torn Libya this week.
Del Rosario said he would have preferred to stay behind to ?see this to fruition,? referring to the repatriation of more Filipinos stranded or caught in the hostilities in the Arab country.
He expressed regret about leaving behind 100 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) at the relocation centers set up by the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli, which included Philippine schools.
Soon after word got out about the successful crossover of 450 Filipinos he had led on board 40 vans from Tripoli to the Tunisian border, Del Rosario said another 350 were waiting at the centers for pickup.
?For as long as we deem it safe, we will continue to use that route to pick people up from the embassy,? he said at a press briefing at the dignitaries? lounge of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). The foreign secretary came aboard an Emirates Airlines flight that touched down at the NAIA at past 4 p.m.
Del Rosario arrived in Tunisia on Saturday morning to personally oversee the evacuation of Filipinos in Libya. He then proceeded by plane to Djerba, the city nearest to the Libyan border.
On Sunday morning, Del Rosario, Foreign Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr., an embassy officer and a driver traveled overland to Libya.
After reaching the Philippine Embassy and visiting the relocation site, Del Rosario gathered the Filipinos awaiting repatriation and quickly organized a convoy of 40 vehicles to bring some 400 OFWs to the Tunisian border and safety before nightfall.
He said of the 26,000 Filipinos in Libya before the uprising began, there were ?maybe less than 10,000 left,? and some of them might not even be in the areas of conflict and did not need to evacuate. But he admitted this was just conjecture.
Del Rosario advised Filipinos in the central and southern part of Libya to stay where they were, if there were no imminent threats to their safety, or to go elsewhere if they had ran out of food.
He said OFWs should not ?aspire to go to Tripoli? at this point, noting the highly fluid situation there.
He also defended the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) against complaints about its slow response to the Libyan crisis.
?The DFA is not without experience ? We have a good working organization. We?re not saying it?s perfect, but we?re trying to do our best,? he said.
Sen. Manuel Villar commended Del Rosario for personally facilitating the return of OFWs to Manila from Tripoli, but said workers in troubled territories did not exactly need a foreign secretary fetching them.
?It?s just good for photo opportunities,? Villar told reporters after receiving a group of Filipinos who were able to return to Manila after they were stranded in Saudi Arabia.
?I commend the DFA secretary for his courage to go there. But what our OFWs need is not the DFA secretary. What they need are funds to be able to return here,? he said in Filipino.
The senator added: ?Our fellow Filipinos there do not need our visit. What they need are funds so they can be provided vehicles, tickets for planes and ships, so they can leave immediately.?
Villar said the lack of sufficient funds for repatriation could be traced from Malacañang?s decision to reduce the fund assistance for OFWs in the 2011 budget of the DFA.