PH streamlines evacuation efforts for OFWs in Sudan

    The raging violence in Sudan that had overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in that country fleeing for their lives prompted the Philippine government to act quickly to evacuate those who had reached the border with Egypt.

    As this article was being updated at dawn on Sunday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced through Twitter that 51 Filipino evacuees had crossed the border to Egypt.

    On Saturday night, it was reported that some evacuees had arrived from Egypt.

    Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW)  announced on Friday that the Philippine government was arranging to fly home 340 OFWs.

    “We’re now focused on booking their flight home. We’re anticipating the approval of the papers of around 340 Filipinos in two to three days’ time,“ Ople said in a virtual press briefing.

    The violence in Sudan is due to the conflict between the country’s Armed Forces headed by Gen. Abdelfateh El Burhan and Rapid Support Forces under Mohamed Hamdan Degalo (“Hemedti”).

    It started on April 15 when clashes broke out in the western side of Sudan and Khartoum, the capital city, to control oil and energy.

    The Philippine government had adopted  a “one-country-team “ approach to evacuate and bring home the OFWs.

    The DFA, through the OUMWA (Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs), and the DMW are involved.

    The Philippine Embassy in Egypt,  the Consulate General and the POLO/MWO (Philippine Overseas Labor Office/ Migrant Workers Office) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, under Consul Edgar Tomas “Gary” Q. Auxilian and Labor Attaché Roel B. Martin, respectively, had also been mobilized.

    Carlito G. Galvez, senior undersecretary and officer-in-charge of the Department of National Defense, had coordinated with the DFA to reposition the defense attachés in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel to help the Philippine mission in the Egyptian capital of Cairo in the evacuation.

    Ople and Undersecretary Hans Leo Cacdac flew to Egypt while Foreign Undersecretary for Migrant Affairs Eduardo Jose de Vega in Manila and Ambassador Ezzedin H. Tago in Cairo had a virtual interview with a local TV network Thursday morning.

    De Vega explained that there was no embassy official yet assisting the evacuees because the Filipino envoy and another embassy official, Vice Consul Bojer Capati, figured in a vehicular accident in their rush to get to the Sudan-Egypt border.

    De Vega made the statement in response to evacuees’ complaints that the Philippine Embassy in Egypt was not ready to assist them.

    He assured the OFWs  that OUMWA was providing the necessary funding and vehicles to transport evacuees who had reached the Egyptian border.

    Tago’s knowledge, skills and experience in crisis management amid the evacuation efforts  earned  him kudos from Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr.

    For Tago, the evacuation being undertaken was déjà vu. He had been involved in  bigger and  stepped-up rescue and evacuation operations in the past.

    On March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia led a nine-country alliance to expel Houthi rebels from Yemen and restore the legitimate government headed by then  president Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who sought refuge in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city.

    OFWs caught in the crossfire fled to the Saudi border with Yemen.

  Tago led a Crisis Management Team, which successfully evacuated 99 Filipino nationals—54 men, 43 women and two infants.

    Involved in the operation were officers and personnel from the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulate General in Jeddah.

    From Najran, in the southern part of the Kingdom, where Tago supervised evacuation operations, he told this reporter that “as of April 12, 2015, a total of 240 Filipinos out of 464 had been evacuated”. I was then covering for Arab News.

    He assumed his post as the Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Yemen in September 2011, replacing Antonio P. Villamor, a well-liked and very popular ambassador among OFWs in Saudi Arabia, particularly the Central Region.

    In April 2015, some 60 undocumented OFWs decided to seek a dialogue with Tago  (and then Labor Attaché Rustico SM dela Fuente)  in view of the Saudi government’s crackdown on illegal residents.

     They wanted to be legalized and repatriated through amnesty.

     They claimed that most of them ran away from their employers due to labor issues, abuses and maltreatment and, upon expiration of their residence certificates, they became illegal residents.

    The OFWULA (OFW Undocumented for Legalization and Amnesty) called on the Philippine government to explore the possibility of getting an amnesty for its members.

    Earlier in 2013, Tago announced that over 4,000 undocumented OFWs had been repatriated to the Philippines.

   Fluent in English and Arabic, Tago learned crisis management on the fly.

    He had a front-row seat as the Philippines negotiated the release of  Roberto Tarongoy, an accountant from Davao, and Angelo dela Cruz, a truck driver, from their Iraqi abductors in 2004.

    With then Undersecretary for Civilian  Security and Consular Concerns Rafael E. Seguis as lead negotiator, Tago served as translator and interpreter in negotiating with the Iraqi kidnappers.

    At that time, Tago was assigned to the Philippine Embassy in Indonesia.

    With them was then Labor Attaché in Kuwait Angelo “Jijil” A. Jimenez, who has just been elected the 22nd president of the University of the Philippines system.

    While Seguis was under then Foreign Secretary Alberto G. Romulo, he reported directly to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on the two hostages who were eventually released and rejoined their families in the Philippines.

    The Filipino ambassador presented his credentials to Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi on Sept. 15, 2021.

    Tago also has jurisdiction over the Republic of Djibouti, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and State of Eritrea, aside from the Republic of Sudan.

    Tago, whose late father was also a top Filipino diplomat, attended school in Jeddah and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California Davis in the United States.

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