Philippines Pres.: Filipinos should leave Lebanon

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Wednesday ordered an evacuation of all Filipinos from Lebanon, estimated at 30,000 workers, citing the deteriorating situation in the conflict-stricken country. So far, the government has flown home about 2,200 Filipinos, most of them from southern Lebanon, including the biggest batch yet of 447 workers who arrived on a flight chartered by the International Organization for Migration early Wednesday. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, the most senior Cabinet official, told reporters that Arroyo ordered a mandatory evacuation of all Filipinos. So far, the order had applied only to south Lebanon. "The President mandated that everybody should be out," Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos told reporters. "Obviously, we cannot ask all the 30,000 to descend from their homes and proceed to the relocation sites," he said, adding that the top priority was to move out those living in southern Lebanon, followed by a small group of Filipinos in an area between Sidon and Beirut. The Sidon-Beirut area was dangerous "because as the Israelis try to push back Hizbullah further up to Beirut - their objective is to free a buffer zone - naturally Hizbullah would fall back on areas closer to Beirut," Conejos said. Most of the Filipinos are in Beirut, while there were still 303 Filipinos in Sidon, he said.