PH must firm up exit plan as Gaza gets Israel deadline
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has ordered a “strong” repatriation plan for Filipinos in Israel and Gaza, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Friday, as the Jewish state served notice of an upcoming assault on the Palestinian enclave and gave its residents 24 hours to relocate southward for their safety.
Malacañang said the President on Thursday ordered the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) “to come up with strong repatriation plans and explore all evacuation strategies to assist affected Filipinos.”
According to the DFA, there are about 30,000 Filipinos in Israel and 131 in neighboring Gaza. The Hamas-controlled area has been pounded by Israel prior to a planned ground offensive, in response to coordinated attacks on Israel by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
Hamas gunmen swept into small towns, settlements and a music festival, killing more than 1,200 people and taking about 150 hostages.
Ready for deployment
The DFA has so far reported three Filipino fatalities, all caregivers taken hostage and killed by the militants (See related story this page).
With regards to the plan to evacuate Filipinos in Gaza, Foreign Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega said: “Not one has been repatriated yet because of the fact that Gaza is under blockade. But we are working on it. We are working with our diplomatic partners.”
The DFA has raised alert level 2 in Israel and alert level 3 in Gaza. The department follows a four-level alert system on critical areas, with level 1 indicating a “precautionary phase” and level 4 requiring “mandatory evacuation.”
On Friday, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said “We are ready, willing and able to facilitate repatriation. That’s the duty not only of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but also the Office of the Civil Defense, through the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.”
He said he was awaiting the President’s “guidance” as well as the assessment on the ground of the DFA and DMW.
Earlier on Wednesday, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said two C-130s and one C-295 aircraft were placed on standby and ready for deployment.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines is prepared to execute evacuation operations should there be a need for that and we already came out with a plan on how to do it. This will be a whole-of-nation approach because what is important for us is the safety of our countrymen,” Aguilar said at a Palace briefing.
In an interview on Friday, Egyptian Ambassador to the Philippines Ahmed Shehabeldin said his country is giving priority to Filipinos in coordinating the safe transfer of civilians out of Gaza.
He added that Malaysia has sought the same assistance regarding its nationals there.
In a statement, Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo said: “Let us mobilize all available resources of the government to ensure the safe return of our countrymen. Time is of the essence, and we must act swiftly to ensure their safety amidst the escalating situation in the region.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations urged Israel to rescind its call for 1.1 million residents of northern Gaza to relocate to the south of the territory within 24 hours, amid massive bombardments in retaliation for the Hamas attacks.
“The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary general, said on Thursday.
He told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the United Nations “strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.”
Israel’s army said it has called for all Gaza City residents to evacuate their homes and head south of the territory “for their safety.”
“The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) calls for the evacuation of all civilians of Gaza City from their homes southwards for their own safety and protection and move to the area south of the Wadi Gaza as shown on the map,” the army said in a statement.
UN response ‘shameful’
“In the following days, the IDF will continue to operate significantly in Gaza City and make extensive efforts to avoid harming civilians.”Dujarric said the army’s evacuation order applies to all UN staff and those sheltering in UN facilities—including schools, health centers and clinics.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) is sheltering more than 60 percent of the 423,000 people displaced in recent days in the Gaza Strip.
It was not immediately clear how many people were currently located north of Wadi Gaza.A Security Council meeting on the conflict has been called, but Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan described the UN’s reponse to the crisis as “shameful.”
“For many years, the UN has turned a blind eye to the arming of Hamas and its use of the civilian population and civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip as a hiding place for its weapons and murder,” Erdan said in a note from his office to AFP.
“Now, instead of standing by Israel,… it preaches to Israel.”“It is better for the UN to focus now on returning the hostages, condemning Hamas and supporting Israel’s right to defend itself,” he said. (See related story in World, Page A11)