Another Filipino confirmed dead in Algeria

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

MANILA (Updated) -- The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed Thursday that another Filipino was killed in the hostage-taking incident in Algeria, bringing the total number of Filipino fatalities to seven.

"One of our OFWs [overseas Filipino workers] was positively identified and was confirmed dead. The accounted for and the deceased increases to seven," Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in a press briefing.

The remains of the seventh fatality were identified on Wednesday (Manila time).

Hernandez said the latest victim of the hostage-taking incident was one of the four earlier reported to be missing. The other one was now confirmed to have been vacationing in the Philippines when the incident took place.

There are now two Filipino workers in the Amenas natural gas field who are still unaccounted for.

In total, there are 17 Filipinos who are now "confirmed unharmed and alive."

"The team in Algeria is still trying to find out about the two missing [Filipinos]. They are busy coordinating with the employers, the Algerian government and the Filipinos in that area," Hernandez said.

The remains of the seven Filipinos who perished in the four-day hostage siege by Islamist militants were positively identified by the embassy team sent from the post in Tripoli, Libya.

The Philippine Embassy in Tripoli has jurisdictions over Philippine affairs in Algeria and neighboring Mali.

Hernandez said, however, that the department cannot divulge the names of the victims because they don't have permissions from the next-of-kin.

He said the repatriation of the remains of the victims will still depend on the coordination of the Philippine embassy team with the Algerian government.

"That [repatriation] is one of the things that our team is focused on. They will be doing a lot of coordination work with the Algerian government. We hope they can do it as soon as possible," the Foreign Affairs official said.

He said, however, that information from the Algerian government is still hard to come by because "Algerian authorities busy."

Hernandez clarified that the repatriation cost that will be incurred in bringing home the remains will be shouldered by the employers of the seven victims -- six from the Japanese JGC company and the seventh victim from the British BP firm.

But he added the embassy "always have budget for such events."

"[The budget] will be needed for sending team, the needs of the team, the cost of assistance, including repatriation, if needed. We are always ready for that. But we first make sure that those responsible [employers] for the repatriation will shoulder the cost," Hernandez said.

The DFA official said there have been no discussions yet on whether a travel advisory or a deployment ban will be raised on Algeria.

"They need to make the necessary assessment regarding possible deployment ban. No discussions have been undertaken," he said.

Hernandez, meanwhile, came to the defense of the Philippine team in Algeria who was accused by a Filipino worker who arrived in Manila on Wednesday of being "incompetent."

"I don't know where they are coming from. We have very limited resources. [The Philippine team] had to prioritize their services first, to those unaccounted for; and secondly, to those trying to verify and find out those who have been killed. Third, to see the conditions of the Filipinos in the hospital [Al Azhar Clinic in Algiers]," he said.

He said the Filipinos who were staying in the Mercure Hotel in Algiers would have to be prioritized "last" because they were "unharmed and were not hostages at all."

A team of OFWs -- Mario Catiis, Crisostomo Carabia, Larry Villariza and Ramon Tortosa -- arrived on Wednesday in Manila. They refused the VIP treatment being offered by the Immigration and Customs and instead, opted to line up on the regular booth.

The four OFWs who arrived were the ones billed at the Mercure Hotel in Algiers.

When media asked them about the incident in Algeria, Catiis accused the Philippine team of being incompetent.

He even said that he will personally write to President Benigno Aquino III to complain. (CVB/Sunnex)

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