Lawmakers urged the government on Thursday to seek help from the international community and use “all diplomatic channels and resources available” to facilitate the immediate release of 17 Filipino seafarers being held hostage by Houthi rebels.
“We call on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to leverage its diplomatic relationships and engage with international partners to address this pressing issue. I am hopeful that they would keep close touch with authorities in ensuring the safe return of our countrymen,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said. The government must explore all available options to bring the Filipino seafarers back to their families and loved ones in the Philippines, Hontiveros added as she also urged the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) to be “present” for the hostages’ families by providing them “steadfast support and practical assistance.”
“More than the assurance, the seafarers’ families need concrete assistance and the DMW should make sure that they initiate regular and transparent communication with the families to keep them informed about the situation, provide mental and emotional support, and financial assistance,” she said. According to Hontiveros, the hostage-taking underscored the need for a “comprehensive and improved” policy framework to manage recurring hazards faced by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
She cited the need for the immediate signing into law of Senate Bill No. 2221, or the Magna Carta of Seafarers, which senators approved in late September. The bill is awaiting action by the bicameral conference committee which needs to reconcile its disagreeing provisions with a counterpart House bill.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva also joined calls for concerned government agencies to help bring the hostages home as he expressed hope that the establishment of the DMW and the augmentation of its Agarang Kalinga at Saklolo para sa mga OFWs na Nangangailangan (Aksyon) fund, would allow the government to provide faster and more efficient services to OFWs.
“We in government need to provide quick assurance on the safety of Filipinos, especially the OFWs who are trying their luck overseas in their hope of giving their families a better life,” he said.
Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez likewise expressed the lower chamber’s concern over the “distressing situation” of the 17 Filipinos as he assured the DFA of their full support for its efforts to secure their release.
Nov. 19 seizure
“We call on the international community to join us in condemning this act of piracy and to assist in any way possible to resolve this crisis,” he said in a statement, adding, “The Philippines is committed to working tirelessly to ensure our citizens’ safe return and address the underlying issues that lead to such incidents.”
On Wednesday, the DFA confirmed that 17 Filipinos were among the international crew members of the cargo ship Galaxy Leader that was seized by the Yemen rebel group Houthi in the southern Red Sea on Nov. 19.
The vessel, which was then on its way to India from Turkey, was also manned by seafarers from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Mexico and Romania.
The Iran-backed Houthi rebels have launched several drone and missile attacks targeting Israel since Oct. 7 in support of the Hamas attacks on Israel. The group had warned that it would seize Israeli vessels in the Red Sea, although Galaxy Leader was operated by a Japanese company. —Melvin Gascon and Jeannette I. Andrade