by Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos
MANILA — The Philippines and Tunisia have agreed to bolster their cooperation in addressing the plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), Malacañang said on Saturday.
This developed after Chief Presidential Protocol and Presidential Assistant on Foreign Relations Robert Borje paid a courtesy call on Tunisian Acting Foreign Minister Sabri Bachtobji in Tunis on Friday, the Palace said in a press statement.
During his meeting with Bachtobji, Borje relayed President Rodrigo Duterte’s message, which focuses on lauding the Tunisian government for its vital role in assisting his administration’s efforts to repatriate Filipinos affected by the escalating violence in North Africa, particularly in Libya.
“Through his representative, President Duterte expressed his gratitude to Tunisia for assisting Filipinos exiting Libya,” Malacañang said.
“The President also wants to work with Tunisia not only on the issues of migrant workers but also on security aiming to achieve deeper relations despite the distance,” it added.
Considering its strategic location, Tunisia, along with Malta and Egypt, has become a major exit point for Filipinos going out of Libya.
In 2019, around 142 Filipinos from the war-torn north African state have been repatriated by the Philippine government.
However, there are still 2,300 OFWs in Tripoli, despite the Duterte administration’s call for a mandatory evacuation.
Bachtobji said that on top of Tunisia’s initiatives in addressing the condition of distressed migrants, it could also play a significant role in achieving global security and stability, once it serves as a non-permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council.
Borje, in response, said the Philippines will continue supporting Tunisia when it becomes a member-state of the UN security body for two years beginning January 2020.
“Acting Foreign Minister Bachtobji said it is very important for the Philippines and Tunisia to work together, stressing it was Tunisia’s duty to assist distressed citizens, including Filipinos, fleeing conflict,” the Palace said.
“Both recognized the long-standing cooperation between the Philippines and Tunisia to assist distressed Filipinos displaced by instability and strife in nearby countries. Both also agreed on the need for the Philippines and Tunisia to continue working closely to further enhance mechanisms of assistance,” it added.
Economic, security cooperation eyed
In a separate press statement, Malacañang said the two countries agreed to further step up its cooperation in the fields of economy and security, as well as culture and history, as they prepare for the commemoration of their 45th anniversary of bilateral relations next year.
Borje told Bachtobji that Duterte considers regional and global security as a “major agenda,” especially after the Philippine troops’ victory against Islamic State (IS) – linked Maute terror group that laid siege to Marawi City on May 23, 2017.
“President Duterte is aware of the continuing threats posed by ISIS (IS of Iraq and Syria) in Southeast Asia and the larger Asia-Pacific region,” Malacañang said.
“The Philippine leader believes that ISIS can only be defeated through intensified functional cooperation between and among countries and regions, according to Borje,” it added.
As a member of the UN Security Council, Tunisia is expected to achieve global security and stability by combating terrorism.
Malacañang said improved ties between the two nations are seen as the two countries celebrate their 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
Bilateral relations between the Philippines and Tunisia started in December 1975. Their close relation was manifested in the assistance provided by the Tunisian government towards Filipino migrant workers during the height of the crisis in Libya.
“Both the Philippines and Tunisia are firming up plans for the milestone anniversary commemoration in 2020,” the Palace said. “The Philippine embassy in Tripoli, Libya, which has jurisdiction over Tunisia, identified key areas of cooperation to include trade and investment, security, cultural exchanges, as well as tourism.” (PNA)