DFA sends team to help Filipinos in Algeria
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has sent a team from the Philippine embassy in Tripoli to Algeria to monitor the situation on the ground and assist Filipino workers who may need help there.
This was disclosed by DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez Saturday, January 19. Hernandez said thus far, 34 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) have already been evacuated from the gas field and have been brought to Spain for eventual repatriation to the Philippines.
Algerian armed forces launched an operation Friday which freed about 100 hostages, including foreigners, but left around 60 Westerners missing.
APS, the Algerian news agency, had said earlier that "more than half" of the foreign hostages, as well as 573 Algerians had been freed in the rescue operation.
'Ongoing' and sensitive drama
A US official said the drama involving Western hostages at the remote Algerian gas field is still "ongoing and sensitive."
Earlier too, news reports said at least two Filipinos were killed in the hostage crisis at an Algerian gas plant, with captors demanding a prisoner swap and an end to French military action in Mali. An American hostage was also confirmed dead Saturday, even as the fate of other foreigners held hostage remained uncertain.
When asked about this, the Palace could not confirm the information.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said, "We have been waiting for confirmation also from the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs). Medyo nahihirapan din po kasi ang DFA na kumuha ng kompirmasyon. The DFA has been getting information from our countrymen here na baka daw po nasama ‘yung kanilang mga kaanak doon sa mga na-hostage, wala pa ho tayo talagang verified information. We want to be very careful about it, given the sensitivity of the situation and the DFA is doing its best to get confirmation on this report."
Vice President Jejomar Binay, in a press statement, said he was "deeply concerned" about the reported deaths.
"The Algerian government has yet to provide any official report to the Department of Foreign Affairs and we share the department's hope that such report be provided at the soonest time possible. Let us pray for an end to the crisis in Algeria and the safety of our kababayans," Binay said.
The Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen, cited by Mauritania's ANI news agency, said they still held 7 foreigners at the site deep in the Sahara desert near the border with Libya. An Algerian security official put their number at 10.
The DFA also earlier confirmed that an injured Filipino who escaped the hostage incident was headed to Algiers. The Filipino, who was not named, managed to escape with a Japanese from the gas field before the military operation started, according to Hernandez.
A GMA-7 news report however interviewed Filipino worker Jojo Balmaceda before he was flown to London. An employee of British oil giant BP, Balmaceda and 3 fellow Filipino workers were taken at gunpoint as they arrived for work, tied up and thrown into a truck, along with Japanese and Malaysian hostages, GMA said.
After the truck was hit by an explosion, Balmaceda escaped but sustained a gunshot wound to his head. "After that I ran away, fearing that the vehicle would explode. Then I lost consciousness and when I woke up I was already in hospital," Balmaceda was quoted as saying.
"I hope to get on a flight so I would be back home tomorrow," Balmaceda said. - Rappler.com/With reports from AFP