MANILA // The Philippine foreign secretary personally led a rescue convoy out of Libya's capital, accompanying about 400 Filipino workers across the border into Tunisia despite the risk, his spokesman said yesterday.
A migrant workers' advocacy group has called on the Philippine government to do more to organise evacuations. Only about 1,900 of the up to 30,000 Filipinos working in Libya have so far got out, and a witness said the country's embassy is jammed with hundreds seeking refuge.
Albert del Rosario, the foreign secretary, flew to the region and then travelled by land with two other diplomats to Tripoli on Sunday to escort the workers back to Tunisia in a 55-vehicle convoy, the foreign affairs department said.
The evacuation went without incident, the spokesman, Ed Malaya, said. From the Tunisian border region of Jerba, Mr del Rosario, a former ambassador to the US who was appointed the acting secretary only last week, was arranging for another 150 Filipinos to leave Tripoli.
"It's a heroic act," Mr Malaya said. "At severe risks to his personal safety and against the advice of some of his colleagues, he went to evacuate our workers as quickly as humanly possible."
About 400 Filipinos have returned to Manila on evacuation flights arranged by their employers. About 13,000 Filipinos in Libya work with multinational companies that signed contracts committing them to evacuate the workers in times of emergencies, Mr Malaya said.
Meanwhile, Imelda Marcos, a former Philippine first lady, yesterday urged Muammar Qaddafi to follow the example of her late dictator husband Ferdinand Marcos, who in the final days of his 21-year rule did not resort to violence to disperse large numbers of protesters during the 1986 "people power" uprising but instead fled the Philippines.
Ms Marcos often insists it was her husband's choice not to use force against pro-democracy protesters and to instead flee to exile, although he might have had little choice after his most loyal generals defected.
"I hope he'll be like Marcos and stop the violence," said Imelda Marcos, who met the Libyan leader in the 1970s.
Elsie Dominguez, a Filipino restaurant manager at a Tripoli hotel who recently was able to flee the country, said the two-story Philippine embassy, which has few rooms and one toilet, had been overwhelmed by hundreds of Filipinos fleeing from oil refineries and other work sites to the Libyan capital. She managed to return to Manila on Sunday aboard a commercial plane chartered by her company.
"When we left, the Tripoli airport was crammed with about 10,000 people waiting for flights beside piles of belongings. There was no water. Many were sleeping everywhere amid the chaos," she said.
The government also chartered a ferry to fetch hundreds of Filipino workers stranded in Benghazi.
A prominent group of overseas Filipino workers, Migrante International, criticised the government's slow response in organising evacuations from Libya.
"Filipinos now are facing confusion, fear and hunger there," said Gary Martinez, the director of Migrante, adding that his group had reached out to stranded Filipinos through emergency telephone hotlines and e-mail then passed the details to officials in Manila.