x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Philippine ambassador moving on

Issues such as working conditions and visa runs were addressed during the six years diplomat served in the UAE.

Libran Cabactulan, the Philippines' ambassador to the UAE, is taking on a new role.
Libran Cabactulan, the Philippines' ambassador to the UAE, is taking on a new role.

ABU DHABI // Libran Cabactulan is in the final month of a six-year tour as the Philippine ambassador to the UAE. And as he leaves behind a time of expansion and change for the Filipino community - and moves on to his new role as head of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty review - his compatriots here say he has worked hard to represent both the government and the people.

"Ambassador Cabactulan was a career diplomat who carried his duty with aplomb," said Dr Amelita Espiritu, a dentist who has been in Abu Dhabi for 26 years. "He is a dedicated public servant who instilled discipline but we always find him approachable and kind-hearted." Under his watch, the Filipino population in the UAE grew to more than 320,000 residents, and he helped establish a Philippine consulate in Dubai in 2004.

In April, he facilitated talks between Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But "we have to move on", Mr Cabactulan said. He will be replaced by Grace Princesa, whose appointment was approved by Manila on May 27. He said his new role, heading the eighth Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the UN headquarters in New York, would take him around the world.

"My task has already started," he said. "I will be travelling to Japan in August and to Korea in November." His work as ambassador included several humanitarian issues. He witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the UAE Ministry of Labour and the Philippine labour department to provide greater protection to Filipino workers. In November, he met Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, and Brig Nasser al Minhali, the acting director general of the federal Naturalisation and Residency Department, to discuss the plight of Filipinos unable to return to the UAE after visa runs. He also sent a consular team to Buraimi to check on the conditions of the stranded Filipinos.

Mr Cabactulan also worked with the UAE Government to restrict the flow of Filipinos into Iraq after a travel ban was imposed in 2004 and 2005. A lorry driver from the Philippines was held hostage there for two weeks in 2004. But he said that before he left, there was one major issue left to resolve: the fate of 104 Filipino nurses whose contracts were not renewed by Al Mafraq Hospital last year after they failed competency examinations.

Eighty-four have filed a complaint, but only 40 cases were heard by the Court of Appeal, which ruled in the hospital's favour. After negotiations, the hospital has offered to provide an endorsement letter for the nurses. Until the case is resolved, however, Manila has banned nurses from working at the hospital. Romy Paragas, a government employee in Al Ain who has lived in the UAE for 23 years, said Mr Cabactulan could have done more for those he represented in the city.

"He is approachable, but I wish that he was able to visit us often here in Al Ain. "His presence would have helped boost the morale of more than 35,000 Filipinos." rruiz@thenational.ae