MANILA — President Benigno Aquino III has opted not to join other world leaders in condemning embattled Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, saying ensuring the safety of Filipinos in the strife-torn North African state is his primary concern.

“I may have the same opinion on a personal level but my first problem has to deal with the 26,000 people who are already there,” he told Palace reporters in a briefing shortly after his first Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council meeting last Monday.

“All of my actions will be guided by not increasing the risks that they will be and are facing, or are being forced to face there. So that has to be clear. All instruments of this government will be attuned to making sure that the 26,000 are as safe as possible,” he said.

“Hopefully it will not deteriorate further,” Mr. Aquino said of the situation in Libya.

“Lebanon, when it had its crisis, roughly had the same number of Filipinos there, about 30,000 at that time. But only 6,000 opted to be moved at that time,” he said.

“May we just say that countries richer than us, having more resources and intelligence resources, were not able to predict this situation,” he said.

“Towards that end, currently we will be calling in perhaps specialists who will help us gather the necessary information so that we will have timely information in a more beneficial manner, especially for fast developing situations that have transpired, for instance in Egypt and also in Libya,” the President stressed.

“Ship will transport about 2,000 OFWs from Libya to Malta.”

“There is a ship that we will be utilizing that will transport about 2,000-plus of our countrymen to Malta. So, we’re moving substantial numbers already,” he told Palace reporters.

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