Chris Lavinia, POLO Welfare Officer Nestor Burayag, Resty Sibug, Marilyn Lavinia, H.E. Ambassador Ezz Tago (barong), Gob Dimalotang, Oscar Domingo, Dr. Lito Astillero (yellow arrow) & Robert Ramos
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – OFW Congress, an advocacy group comprised of various Filipino community organizations in Riyadh hosted a farewell dinner get-together in honor of Dr. Lito Astillero dubbed as the “Father of the OFWs in the Kingdom”. The farewell dinner get-together was held at Al-Nafoura Restaurant in Riyadh, Wednesday night.
Astillero, who is from Western Mindanao, has been an OFW for the past 23 years in the Kingdom as Laboratory Director at Al-Mishari Hospital in Riyadh. He also worked in Iran and Libya, summing up as an OFW for the last 35 years.
Among those who came to bid farewell to Dr. Lito Astillero is no less than the Philippine Ambassador-designate to the Kingdom, H.E. Ambassador Ezzedin Tago.
The get-together was more than a celebration for an OFW who is leaving Saudi Arabia for good, the country he considered a second home for the past 23 years. But it was also a historic moment when one by one, the community leaders stood and narrated all the good things and deeds he has been doing to the OFW Community.
Dr. Lito Astillero had been an active community leader, adviser, philanthropist and fund campaigner whenever calamities struck the Philippines. Among the organizations he headed is the Organization of the Knights of Rizal (OKOR) of which he was Founding Regional Commander (Formerly called Area Commander), Middle East and Africa Area Council, from 2002 to 2004; Founding Chairman, Gabay ng Manggagawang Pilipino Party, 1999 to 2002; Chairman, BIMPCO Multipurpose Cooperative in 1997 to 2000; Chairman, PUNO “Pagkakaisa at Unawaan ng mga Organisasyon” from 1996 to 1997; President, BAR “Basketball Association of Riyadh” in 1993 to 1996; President, BISAYA “Bisayang Igsoon sa Saudi Arabia, 1996 to 1997; Board of Director, Philippine Embassy International School of Riyadh, 1996 to 1997; President, Filipino Community of Libya, Misurata, Libya, 1979 to 1981; President, Filipino Community of Iran, Bandar Abbas Iran in 1976 to 1978.
He earned his degree at Southwestern University and placed 9th in the 1968 Medical Board Exam. Presently, his family is residing in Labangon, Cebu City. The doctor and his wife Elena have five children, which include two doctors, a nurse, an engineer and a lawyer.
During his stint as an Overseas Filipino Worker, he received various awards, including the Special Presidential Award 1996 – Banaag at Sikat, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Award for Outstanding OFW (1994) both awarded by former President Fidel Ramos; the Bagong Bayani Award (1992) by former President Cory Aquino; and the Most Outstanding Filipino in Saudi Arabia (1990) by the Philippine Embassy.
Ambassador designate Ezzedin Tago in his short remraks was saddened to hear that Dr. Astillero will leave the Kingdom for good, “Dr. Astillero is a well respected Filipino community leader, we will surely missed him but we must continue his unfinished task and he should be our inspiration in doing what is good for the OFWs,” Tago said.
Tago also expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the OFW Congress for the support he get since from the beginning he was assigned in Riyadh as Philippine Embassy Charge D’ Affaires. He emphasized that it is still improper addressing him as “Ambassador”, for the fact that he still need an official acceptance from the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud on his appointment as Philippine Ambassador to the Kingdom. “Without it (official acceptance) I am still the Charge D’ Affaires and Consul General of our Embassy” he said.
After his remarks, Tago excused himself to prepare for his flight to Kazakhstan as part of the Philippine delegation in the 38th Session of the Organization of Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers. Philippines is seeking OIC permanent observer status since 2008. OIC is the second largest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations.
Astillero was also thankful to the OFW Congress in hosting the said Farewell Dinner Get-Together in his honor. “I am truly honored and I really appreciate your gesture in hosting this dinner” he said. “I just hope that you will continue helping our fellow compatriots in distress” Astillero is referring to those unfortunate OFWs in distressed seeking help from the community. He also asked the OFW Congress-Riyadh to rally behind the newly installed Philippine Chief of Mission in the Kingdom.
Gob Dimalotang, founding President of PHILMOWA (Philippine Moslem Overseas Workers Movement) said, “there will never be another Dr. Astillero in our heart” while Allan Macabangkit of Shakba says “It is not enough for us to say Goodbye and Thank you to our beloved Big Brother”.
Dante Pangcoga of Integrated Mindanao Economic Forum said, “If only I can stop him not to go, I will stop him, Dr. Astillero is a person hard to be replaced.”
OFWC Executive Vice President Faisal Sarque described Dr. Astillero as an icon. “Even we have diverse opinion on certain issue but we are still friends in and outside the community” Sarque said.
Sarque handed to Dr. Lito Astillero a “Certificate of Recognition” from OFW Congress-Riyadh for his outstanding commitment and dedication advocating the interest, well-being and welfare of the Overseas Filipino Workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In 2008, Astillero was endorsed by OFW Congress-Riyadh along with OFW advocates and organizations worldwide to the top OWWA post, but the former Arroyo administration choose Carmelita Dimzon, a long-time official of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) as chief of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA).
Just recently, OFW Congress-Riyadh handed to Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay during his visit in Riyadh a recommendation asking the Government to appoint a land based OFWs from Saudi Arabia to sit as OWWA and POEA Board respectively. The OFW Congress did not in particular endorse any personalities for the mentioned seats but two of their Executive Council members were endorsed by other group namely Engr. Robert Ramos and so with Dr. Lito Astillero.
When asked about the rumor that a certain group at home is seeking for his seat in the POEA and OWWA Board, Astillero neither confirm nor deny it, but he assured that he would continue advocating issues and concern affecting the lives of the OFWs at site and their families at home.
OFWC President Alex Bello who is currently in Philippines sent a message to Dr. Astillero posted at Facebook “now you can spearhead to empower the OFWs & Ex-OFWs & Families here in our homeland”. Bello is referring that Dr. Astillero can now be an active campaigner of OFW empowerment at home. Just recently Alex Bello and OFW families in Region 8 formed the “Pagkakaisa OFW Family, Region 8.” The concept is to organize Pagkakaisa OFW Family in all regions nationwide which aimed to bring and empower OFW families into the mainstream of the Philippine society. -End-