Filipino nurses still in Libya earn locals’ love and respect

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Hundreds of Filipino nurses and medical staff who have opted to stay behind in strife-torn Libya are winning the hearts of the locals and improving the reputation of the Philippines in Arab countries, Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said.

“That's why our nurses deserve our admiration and also, I guess it's the reason Libyan people love Filipinos there," he said in a briefing upon his return from a two-week visit to Libya and Tunisia on Friday (March 11).

Conejos said many of the Filipino nurses, numbering 1,300 in Libya's largest hospital, the Tripoli Medical Center, and another 600 in the Benghazi Medical Center, had decided to stay behind out of professional commitment.

A few dozen nurses, however, have already left Libya, as the Inquirer reported earlier, with at least 70 nurses from two Tripoli hospitals returning to Manila out of fear of getting left behind as the hostilities escalated.

“They told us, 'Sir, we cannot go, we are medical personnel. We should be the last ones to leave hospitals. There are people dying here’," Conejos said.

He said Libyans were appreciative of the Filipino presence “because of what they showed, in the heat of the fight, they remained and served the interest of the people of Libya."

“Wherever we go, in Libya, in Tunisia, people would wave at us, 'Philippine, Philippine.' Our reputation is good in that part of the world," Conejos said with a chuckle.

Conejos said it was funny how, during his visit, he would so often meet fathers with their children. “I'd ask them, 'Where's the mother?' And they'd answer, 'Sir, my wife is a nurse, she decided to stay and asked us to go.' Why? 'Because she is a nurse...'"

But he conceded that the Filipino nurses were motivated also by monetary reasons, noting the excellent perks and privileges of working in the oil-rich North African country.

“They'd tell me also, it would be a pity, the privileges of our nurses in Libya are so good. The highest paid there would be paid ranging from about a minimum of $800 to even as high as $2,000."

In the last two weeks, Conejos said the government “increased their salaries not just twice but three-fold."

The benefits are even bigger for those who have been there for 15 years. If they were to leave, “they told me, we stand to forfeit our gratuities and benefits," he added.

Conejos said Filipinos must understand “this context” in addition to respecting and admiring the Filipino nurses' commitment to the medical profession.

Conejos said the Philippine government had extricated, on its own efforts, 6,000 of the 14,000 Filipinos now out of harm's way in Libya.

As of Friday, more than 8,000 Filipinos have returned home, mostly under arrangements by their multinational employers.

“I'm very pleased to report that after sustained and combined sea, air, and land operations we were able to successfully extricate from Libya, I think approximately, by direct government action, about 6,000 OFWs in only a span of 10 days," he said.

He emphasized the scale and speed of the operation by comparing it to the 6,000 Filipinos repatriated from Lebanon in 2006, which the Philippine government accomplished in seven weeks.

Conejos said the Philippine operations in Libya had taken out all Filipinos who wanted to leave. “See, all I'm saying now is all the OFWs who want to leave Libya we have taken them out. Those in Libya now are those who decided on their own free will and volition to stay," he said.

The official, who announced that “phase one” of the operation was complete, said he hoped the Libyan conflict would result in a political settlement.

“Because if not, then we are in for a protracted civil war. Right now, as I say, none of them is strong enough to overpower the other. But this will not hold on. This will have to give at a certain point," he said.

“We should be prepared for that. That is what I refer to as phase two," Conejos said.

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