Press Release
August 3, 2006

Senator Jinggoy Estrada defends RP envoy to Lebanon
for cooperating with Senate probe despite Palace gag order

Senator Jinggoy Estrada defended Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Al Francis Bicahra for cooperating with the Senate investigation on the misuse of the funds of Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) despite a palace ban on officials testifying in Senate probes.

Estrada said Bichara is only telling the truth when he said that the Department of Foreign Affairs and OWWA have not yet release repatriation funds to the embassy in Beirut, despite claims of Palace officials that enough funds are now in the Philippine embassy.

Estrada said Bicharas complaint of lack of funds prompted Malacañang to release $150,000 from the DFA and the OWWA had also released $2 million out of the P8 billion or about $154 million fund of the agency.

Malacañang and DFA officials were irked when Bichara gave his testimony in a telephone patch on Monday to a Senate hearing on the repatriation funds.

Estrada said that DFA officials have also barred Philippine ambassador to Israel Antonio Modena from testifying in the Senate probe. Modena had also complained that his request for funds have not been released to the embassy to relocate 5,000 OFWs from Northern Israel which is being bombarded by Hizbollah rockets from Lebanon.

The Arroyo Administration had barred diplomats and government officials from testifying in the Senate probe because the Palace is worried that their bungling and lack of planning and maybe even the misuse of OWWA funds will be exposed, Estrada said.

Estrada said the lack of planning and foresight could be the main reason why the Malacañang officials are afraid to attend public hearing called by the Senate Committee on Labor and Employment on the misuse of OWWA funds.

Natakot dumalo sa public hearing sa Senado ang mga opisyal ng Malakanyang kasi malamang mabulgar na wala talaga silang plano sa evacuation ng mga workers from Lebanon, Estrada said.

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