The Philippine government is considering Damascus and Aleppo in Syria as relatively secure areas where Filipinos seeking repatriation can be picked up and brought to Manila.
In a radio interview on Wednesday, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said there are places in Syria that are relatively secure from violence, at least for now.
"Ang mga protest and violence, karahasan, ito hindi naman sa... buong Syria, may pockets lang. So may safe places like for example Damascus at Aleppo, there have been (reports) that these are still very secure places for our OFWs.
"So sa mga ganoong lugar pwede magtipon-tipon at later on kung maari sila dalhin sa place where they can be repatriated," Hernandez said over radio dzRH.
(Protests and violence are not everywhere, at least for now. There are still safe places for our OFWs, including Damascus and Aleppo. Those who wish to avail of voluntary repatriation may want to gather there for now.)
In the same interview, Hernandez said no Filipino has so far been reported injured in the violence there.
"Wala pa ho. At so far wala ring mga report na meron ng taong handa nang mai-repatriate from Syria to the Philippines (So far there has been no report of Filipinos being among the injured in the violence there. There has also been no report so far of Filipinos wishing to be repatriated)," he said.
On Tuesday, the DFA raised the alert level in Syria to “3" amid the escalating violence in several parts of the country.
In an interview on dzBB, Philippine ambassador to Syria Wilfredo Cuyugan said "even if alert level 4 is not yet declared, we encourage our nationals to go home... habang wala pang gulo at habang may commercial flights pang available."
He said alert level 3 only means "voluntary assisted" repatriation, while level 4 means mass evacuation.
Kaya tinaas ang alert level sa 3 to make sure 'di maiipit ang mga Pilipino just in case. Pero sa tingin po naming di naman po puputok yan ng ganun ka-grabe but still we would err on the side of caution.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, in a statement, enjoined all Filipinos working and residing in Syria to leave, with the Philippine government shouldering the repatriation cost.
"I have directed our Philippine Embassy in Damascus to intensify its efforts to reach out to Filipinos and convince them that now is the time to consider leaving Syria," he said in a statement posted on the government portal.
DFA records showed that there are 17,000 Filipinos living and working in Syria.
Situation on the ground
When asked what form of transportation will be used to repatriate Filipinos, Hernandez said a DFA team is still assessing the situation.
He said they do not expect many Filipinos to avail of voluntary repatriation at this time.
"Depende sa situation on the ground kasi sa ngayon mapalad na tayo kung maraming takers para sa voluntary repatriation. So kung halimbawa marami, meron tayong contingency plan kung saan sila dadalhin.
Sa ngayon we are expecting itong mga kababayan natin ay hindi pa dadagsa o dadaming pupunta sa ating embahada para mag-request ng repatriation," he said.
(It will depend on the situation on the ground. For now we do not expect many to seek voluntary repatriation.)
"This will come in trickles most likely but even then we are already prepared kung dumami man meron tayong contingency plan (These will come in trickles most likely but we are already prepared with contingency plans)," he added.
Hernandez said families of Filipinos working in Syria can call the DFA hotline at 8343333, which he said will be open 24 hours. — RSJ/LBG, GMA News