By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has decided to send a group of Cabinet members instead of government warships to help secure the safe release of Filipino workers kidnapped in Libya.
The President has formed a high-level task force led by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano to work with the Libyan government in dealing with the hostage crisis, according to Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque.
The government team includes Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) concerns Abdullah Mamao, and Mindanao Development Authority Secretary Datu Abul Khayr Alonto.
“We have formed a high-level all cabinet member team to deal with Libyan government and help in effort to recover two of our countrymen who were kidnapped together with a South Korean national,” Roque said during a Palace press briefing.
The President earlier said he was considering the deployment of one or two Philippine Navy frigates to Libya to secure the release of Filipinos taken hostage there. Duterte however said he wanted to consult the cabinet and other security officials before resorting to the dispatch of a rescue ship.
Roque said the President has expressed “regrets” over the kidnapping of the two Filipinos in Libya but it was deemed prudent to deploy the government task force to deal with the hostage situation.
“He stated previously that he was thinking of sending frigates together with the Koreans to at least send a message that the President takes the plight of Filipino OFWs very seriously but he has since considered the advice of the cabinet to first form a task force,” Roque said.
“The problem that complicates this latest case of kidnapping is that the kidnappers are not state agents of Libya. They are militias who are engaged in an armed conflict with the Libyan government. That’s why it was deemed more prudent to work with the Libyan government to see what the demands are,” he added.
Roque acknowledged that Libyan government has been under pressure to resolve the hostage situation amid threats of the water company, that employs Korean and Filipino hostages, to leave the country.
He said it was Bello who raised the issue that water was considered a vital resource in Libya.
“Water in Libya is considered somehow equally valuable as oil and that’s why the Koreans, when they said that everything must be done to secure their release, were actually exerting pressure to Libyan government given the fact they threatened to leave the ongoing water project in Libya which is deemed important in Libya,” Roque said.
A group of armed insurgents abducted the Filipino engineers and a South Korean national during an attack on a waterworks project in Libya last month. South Korea has already deployed a warship to Libyan waters to secure the release of its national kidnapped with other foreigners.