Lebanon News

Philippines foreign affairs secretary meets Sleiman

BEIRUT: Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo met with President Michel Sleiman on Monday as part of a four-day visit to Lebanon and Syria aimed at strengthening diplomatic relations. Romulo was the "first and highest Philippines official to visit" Beirut in many years, Philippines Ambassador to Lebanon Gilbert Asuque told The Daily Star on Wednesday. The two countries have enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1946, but the Philippines embassy was not opened in Beirut until 1996.

Before leaving Manila, Romulo said his visit was in line with the Philippine's "commitment to deepen its engagement" with its Middle East partners, the Philippine Daily Enquirer reported on Monday. "I am hopeful that my interface with these key players will redound to the benefit of all Filipino Muslims."

During his meeting with Sleiman, Romulo thanked the Lebanese government for "the valuable support and assistance extended for the safe repatriation of some 10,000 Filipinos in Lebanon during the July 2006" war with Israel, said the website of the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs.

The two officials agreed to improve bilateral partnership "through the exchange of visits including parliamentarians, negotiation of agreements in the areas of labor, trade and culture, and engagement in the Organization of the Islamic Conference and other regional and multilateral fora," the website added.

Romulo also met with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh before leaving to Damascus, according to media reports.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, a Filipina domestic worker was charged with the attempted murder of her employer and handed down a three-year prison sentence. The worker, who Ambassador Asuque said was tried and sentenced in a public hearing, also faces a fine of LL15,000,000 in damages. Local media reports said the worker, who was not identified, beat her sleeping employer with a baseball bat and attempted to smother her with a pillow before being pushed away by another household helper. The attacker then reportedly sought refuge at the Philippines embassy.

"We provided the Filipina in question with a lawyer employed by the Philippines embassy," Asuque said, adding that the embassy was obliged by law to provide assistance to its citizens. The lawyer had "exerted their best efforts" and had fully complied with Lebanese law, the ambassador said.

According to estimates from the Philippines government, 30-31,000 of its citizens live and work in Lebanon, including those not officially registered. Although Manila currently has a deployment ban in place for Lebanon, Asuque confirmed reports that the Philippines was reviewing the policy, specifically regarding "how to promote the welfare and labor rights" of its citizens.

"We follow the internal laws of Lebanon and expect [Filipinos in Lebanon] to comply with those laws too," he added. "All [Philippines citizens] have the right to come to the embassy and seek our assistance."





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