MANILA A ranking official on Monday said the Philippine government could declare Tripoli under Alert Level III or voluntary repatriation phase "anytime now" upon the decision of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila.
"Raising the Alert Level is the last thing we would want to do but it is something that would have to be done to ensure the safety of our people," said Charge d'affaires and Embassy head of mission Elmer Cato in an open letter addressed to Filipinos workers in Libya and those on vacation in the Philippines.
"We have given our recommendation but the final decision will be made by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila," he added.
The envoy said once the alert level is raised, those who are currently in the country or are about to travel back to Manila would not be allowed to return to the Libyan capital until the situation normalizes.
"This is part of established protocols and the only way to lift the restriction is for us to wait for the situation to stabilize. Hopefully, the current crisis would not be long," he said.
Based on the last count, Cato said there were at least 21 dead and more than 90 wounded as fighting flares in the outskirts of the Libyan capital.
Rebel forces last week marched from the east of the country with the aim of taking Tripoli. The United Nations-backed Libyan government led by prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj responded by placing security forces on alert, noting rebels will be met with force.
Citing observations from Filipinos in the area, Cato said the latest fighting seemed to be different from previous ones in terms of intensity.
"They may be right. We have noted the use of heavy weapons, including multiple rocket launchers and have seen battle tanks being moved to the frontlines," he stressed.
"We have seen the damage the shelling that took place yesterday inflicted on residential houses and some establishments in the outskirts of Tripoli. A stray shell actually landed in the yard of the next-door neighbor of our Libyan staff, forcing him and his family to flee."
Embassy stays in Tripoli
Meanwhile, he assured that the Philippine Embassy will remain in Tripoli following reports that some countries evacuated their diplomatic staff from the Libyan capital.
"As the fighting gets closer to Tripoli, we would like to take this opportunity to assure the members of the Filipino Community that we have no plans of leaving. We will be staying here with them the same way colleagues who came before us did," he said.
The envoy shared that most embassies moved to Tunis, the capital of Libya's northwestern neighbor, Tunisia.
"I don't have the exact number now but we are among the few that remain open here," he told the Philippine News Agency. (PNA)
Source: Philippines News Agency