A Filipino migrant rights group in the Middle East is not discounting the possibility that an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who was reportedly killed in Syria was hit by a stray bullet while attempting to escape from her employer’s house in Homs, 160km away north of Damascus, Syria’s capital.
Yesterday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) through its spokesperson Atty. Raul Hernandez on a radio interview confirmed that OFW Violeta Cortez, on her mid-40’s from San Pablo, Laguna reportedly found dead at an undisclosed street in Damascus on January 5, 2012.
Asked what could have been the cause of her death, the DFA spokesperson said she allegedly was a victim of hit-and-run while in Damascus.
But Migrante-Middle East (M-ME), a migrant rights group, says it is not ruling out that OFW Cortez was possibly hit by a stray bullet while cruising her way out of Homs, where heavy fighting still ensued, going to Damascus to seek the Philippine embassy’s assistance.
“Information reaching us is that she was on her way going to Damascus from her employer’s abode in Homs in her own effort to save her despite pleading assistance to the PH embassy to evacuate her and other fellow OFWs stranded in Homs,” said John Leonard Monterona, M-ME regional coordinator.
Monterona said OFW Cortez is one of those OFWs in Homs who have sought assistance to them sometime in May 2011. “OFW Cortez was among those whose names M-ME submitted to the PH embassy in Damascus pleading to be evacuated out of Homs and eventually repatriated back in the Philippines.”
“There were about 30 of them then in Homs who have called me and plead for assistance as they fear for their lives due to heavy fighting between anti-government protesters and the Syrian military forces,” Monterona confirmed.
“The only reply the stranded OFWs in Homs, including OFW Cortez, got from the PH embassy is an advice to find its way to escape from their employer by riding a taxi going to Damascus where the PH embassy building is located, not minding the high risk present while travelling out of Homs to Damascus,” Monterona added.
Monterona citing the accounts of stranded OFWs in Homs he had spoken then, they could not find the embassy’s presence and its evacuation efforts contradicting DFA’s statement that many OFWs do not want to leave Syria.
“PH embassy in Syria has just appointed its ‘coordinators’, who are OFWs themselves, in Homs, Latakia, and other cities in Syria and direct them of what to do. Thus, we could say there was no actual evacuation done by the PH embassy when the time the situation is not yet that heightened that would allow evacuation of stranded OFWs in Homs, Latakia and other Syrian cities going to a safer place like in Damascus where the PH embassy is also located,” Monterona averred.
Monterona calls on the DFA to probe deeply on the death of OFW Cortez.
“More OFW deaths, though we pray that no other OFW would be hurt or died in Syria, is the price of a ‘wait-and-see evacuation and repatriation stance’ by the PH govt., the DFA and other concerned govt. agencies. Evacuation and repatriation efforts must be pro-active, this is what the MENA crisis taught us so far,” Monterona concluded.
John Leonard Monterona
Migrante Middle East regional coordinator