At a recent dinner hosted by former Speaker Jose de Venecia, the guest of honor was Crown Prince Mohammad El Senussi of Libya, the man Manong Joe grandiloquently introduced as “the next king of Libya.”
If His Highness looked a trifle embarrassed, it may be because he seems a truly modest man, demurring that “it is up to the people of Libya” if they wish to return the country to a monarchy and him to the throne last occupied by his uncle, King Idris.
In fact, one of Prince Mohammad’s prime concerns during his visit was to have the current ban on deployment to Libya lifted by the Philippine government. “My country needs to develop and we still need your workers,” he pleaded. He was all praises for Filipino doctors and nurses in Libya, especially the 400 or so health workers who refused to abandon their posts and continued caring for the wounded and dying despite the chaos and violence in the streets of Tripoli and other Libyan cities. “We treasured and cherished their presence” at such a difficult time, he said. “They showed their true valor and true colors.”
Indeed, even when Libya was still peaceful, in the years before the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi, Filipino workers already proved their worth and value, said the Prince. “Libyans appreciated the hard work and devotion not just of your nurses but even Filipinos working in the oil fields, in construction…”
At the height of the protests and fighting that followed, Prince Mohammad and his family were across the border in Egypt, where they had lived in exile for decades. But as De Venecia tells it, when the Prince crossed the border to Benghazi, which is the center of “royalist” sentiment in Libya, he was received “like a god.”
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Speaking on behalf of fellow Libyans, the Prince “apologized” for imposing “an evil man” who “caused a lot of hardship not just for Libya but also for the rest of the world.”
He certainly knows whereof he speaks, since the Sanussis were among the first of Gadhafi’s victims after the Al Fateh coup of 1969. King Idris and the rest of the clan were confined to their seaside palace, but after a fire destroyed the entire complex, the family was forced to reside in a hut on the beach.
Before being exiled to London and then Egypt, Prince Mohammad worked for Libya’s Ministry of Agriculture as a humble bureaucrat, explaining to one interviewer, “I had to do it because otherwise I wouldn’t have survived.”
He is concerned these days with the aftermath of the Arab Spring, not just in Libya but especially in neighboring countries like Egypt, Yemen and possibly Syria. Egypt is especially problematic, with the rise of Islamist parties that threaten the secular systems of countries once under strongman rule. He expressed the wish that Libya would stabilize before Egypt falls into the hands of Islamists, “because once they control Egypt, they can influence all their neighbors.”
While we were having dinner with the Prince, we could hear from outside on the terrace the merry sounds of the “lady legislators” who were celebrating their Christmas party. Shortly after dinner ended, Rep. Gina de Venecia, who was hosting the party in her capacity as president of the lady legislators (Speaker Sonny Belmonte was their guest of honor), invited the Prince to go out and meet the congresswomen.
I’m sure it was a welcome diversion for the Prince amid the weighty problems waiting for him at home.
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A whistle is the symbol of the current 18-Day Campaign to End Violence against Women, with the theme “Unite: Stop Violence against Women Now!”
The campaign exhorts the public to “blow the whistle on violence against women (VAW).” Organizers explain that “in sports events and law-enforcement operations, whistles are commonly used to call attention or to signal the command: STOP. In disaster preparedness, whistles are considered as essential items in emergency kits which can be used to call for help. For anti-VAW campaigners in several parts of the world, the whistle is both a symbolic and practical device that can be used to stop VAW.”
The 18-Day Campaign, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 12, is observed annually to call attention to women’s rights as central to the observance, promotion and protection of human rights in general. It begins on International Day against Violence against Women and ends on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, stressing that “violence against women is a violation of human rights.”
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The 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey revealed that one in five women in the country has experienced physical violence since age 15; and one in 10 experience sexual violence. Still, most survivors said they did not seek help from police or social workers, preferring instead to run to their own families or friends and neighbors.
In light of these findings, the Inter-Agency Council on Violence against Women and their Children decided that for this year, the campaign should be aimed at getting women “to claim and defend their rights.” Focus of the ongoing campaign will be on information dissemination about the anti-VAW laws, as well as the various services of government agencies and non-government organizations available to VAW survivors. It will also “build on past initiatives like building a network of male advocates against VAW, as well as highlight aspects of VAW that need particular emphasis,” including the issue of VAW among women with disabilities and electronic VAW.
For their part, government personnel will mark the last day of the campaign with a simultaneous blowing of whistles against VAW on Dec. 12 during the traditional Monday flag-raising ceremony.