Filipinos from Israel, Gaza begin arriving

Mayen Jaymalin, Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
Filipinos from Israel, Gaza begin arriving
Residents inspect the damage to their building in the southern city of Ashkelon on October 9, 2023, after it was hit during the night by a rocket from the Gaza Strip.
AFP / Menahem Kahana

MANILA, Philippines — Seventeen Filipinos in Israel who have opted for repatriation are expected to arrive in Manila this afternoon, as hopes brighten for the others wishing to leave the devastated Gaza with the possible opening “any day now” of the Rafah border crossing into Egypt.

In a statement, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) said the Etihad Airlines plane carrying the 17 Filipinos is expected to arrive at 3:55 p.m. today.

“They will be met and assisted by various government agencies,” the DMW said.

They were from southern Israel where militant group Hamas launched unprecedented surprise terror attacks on Oct. 7.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Eduardo de Vega said yesterday in an interview with GMA that Israeli and Egyptian authorities were working on letting Filipinos pass through the Rafah border, the only way out of Gaza after Israel closed its crossings in preparation for a ground invasion of the besieged territory.

“They’re still working on border arrangements. But let’s see because according to the Israel ambassador it could be any day now,” De Vega said in Filipino.

At a meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo yesterday, Israel Ambassador Ilan Fluss assured the Philippine official of Tel Aviv’s help in repatriating the remains of the Filipinos killed in the violence.

“Israel will help in bringing home the remains of the Filipinos killed and will extend assistance to the bereaved families,” the embassy said in a Facebook post.

On Monday, De Vega said the Philippines got in touch with Egyptian authorities to work out an arrangement that would allow Filipinos to cross into Egypt if and when it opens its Rafah border.

Rafah, which borders Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula with the Hamas-controlled Gaza, is the only border crossing in Gaza not controlled by Israel. The Jewish state has been enforcing a blockade on the strip since 2002.

“We’re talking to them (Egyptian authorities) not only to open the border but also to give permission to Filipinos,” he said.

The names of Filipinos in Gaza, including the 78 waiting to be allowed into Egypt through the Rafah border, have been submitted to Egyptian authorities for processing of their request.

Also submitted were the names of the Palestinian spouses of the Filipinos, although Egypt has not made a commitment to let them through.

The DFA said Filipinos in Gaza who would be able to make it to Egypt would be repatriated to the Philippines.

According to De Vega, all the 135 Filipinos in Gaza were safe, with 78 of them at the Rafah border.

Humanitarian corridor

Meanwhile, a senior administration legislator has joined calls for the opening of humanitarian corridors in Gaza to allow innocent civilians, especially overseas Filipino workers, to escape the bombardment of Gaza by Israel forces.

“I am one with those calling for the opening of a humanitarian corridor in southern Gaza – as spearheaded by the UN or other international institutions – to get all innocent civilians, most especially our OFWs, out of harm’s way,” Rep. LRay Villafuerte said.

“The opening of a safe exit via the Rafah crossing will also enable the Department of Foreign Affairs to make good on President Marcos’ assurance of the repatriation of the three Filipino casualties at the soonest time possible,” the Camarines Sur congressman said.

A humanitarian corridor is a physical entry or exit point where the warring camps agree to a ceasefire for a limited period to allow people to pass through.

The DFA plans to repatriate OFWs, as well as the remains of the three Filipino caregivers killed in the violence.

One of the missing Filipinos – 42-year-old Grace Prodigo Cabrera of Maasin in Iloilo – may have been abducted by Hamas militants, Maasin Mayor Francis Amboy said yesterday.

The mayor said Cabrera’s sister showed up at his office to ask for help in reaching her.

She told the mayor that Grace was able to send a message to their cousin on the day of the attack on Oct. 7 claiming she saw several heavily armed men arriving in Be’eri Kibbutz, the “ground zero” of the Hamas attacks.

It was believed that Cabrera, along with stroke survivor patient and employees, was taken from their home.

Cabrera’s younger sister Mary who was working nearby was able to escape the attackers by hiding. She has since been rescued.

Their mother Paterna Prodigo said they were coordinating with the Philippine embassy and with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in locating Cabrera.

“What’s important to me is her safety,” Paterna told RMN-Iloilo.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development, meanwhile, has expressed its condolences to the family of Loreta Villarin Alacre and offered initial cash aid amounting to P40,000.

“DSWD Field Office social workers continue to monitor and assess the situation of the family in order to extend other appropriate interventions that they may need as they go through this difficult period,” DSWD Western Visayas Regional Director Carmelo Nochete said in a report to DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian. — Delon Porcalla, Jennifer Rendon, Gilbert Bayoran

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