DFA seeks safe route for Filipinos, expats out of Gaza
MANILA, Philippines — The government has appealed for the immediate opening of Gaza’s border with Egypt to let in Filipinos who want to avoid getting caught in the ongoing war between Israeli forces and Hamas militants.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is hopeful for a solution to be reached soonest in order for the Rafah crossing to start receiving foreign nationals so that our kababayan (fellow Filipinos) in Gaza will be allowed to cross into Egypt,” it said in a statement on Monday.
“From there, our teams will work on their repatriation to the Philippines.”
On Sunday, the 131 Filipinos in Gaza City left the war-torn area after the DFA ordered their mandatory evacuation with its declaration of alert level 4 in Gaza.
“We are hoping that the international communities’ diplomatic efforts to get Egypt and Israel to agree on the safe exit of foreign citizens from Gaza can be successful as soon as possible,” Foreign Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega told reporters.
In a television interview, De Vega said that some Filipinos had yet to decide whether to cross the Egyptian border because they were afraid that their Palestinian spouses would not be allowed to come with them.
“Unfortunately, both Israel and Egypt do not seem to be of the position that Palestinians can leave,” he explained, adding that Cairo was worried about the possibility of being infiltrated by terrorists.
According to De Vega, not all Filipinos who left Gaza City wanted to return to the Philippines, saying some were trying to look for somewhere else to stay in Gaza.
“There are 78 at the border with Egypt. There are another 30 in another part of southern Gaza, and the rest have left northern Gaza or Gaza City. There is not much danger in the southern Gaza compared to the north,” he said.
Another 35 Filipinos staying in Israel were expected to arrive in the Philippines within the week after they sought repatriation, according to Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) officer in charge Hans Leo Cacdac.
“We are mainly flying them out because Ben Gurion International Airport is pretty much operational. At least outbound flights,” Cacdac told ANC in an interview, adding that 388 of the over 30,000 Filipinos in Tel Aviv had also sought assistance.
“Only around 35 requested repatriation. It’s because over the years, Pinoys have found a home in Israel. They feel secure in that sense,” he explained. “Another matter is most OFWs are caregivers. Human care workers. Filipinos are dedicated to their patients or alaga. It’s all part of Filipino work ethic.”
The 388 were from the same affected areas where three overseas Filipino workers were killed.
“Of the 388, 385 are accounted for. Still securing current status for the three OFWs. We’re hoping and praying that the Israeli Defense Forces and their employers will continue the search and find them,” Cacdac said.
In a post on social media, the Philippine Embassy in Israel said it had delivered emergency assistance to affected Filipinos after Hamas militants attacked several communities in southern Israel.
“The embassy is also grateful to the Filipino community groups and individuals who work hard to provide shelter, groceries and other necessities to our countrymen who are temporarily displaced,” it added.
National Security Council Deputy Director General and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya, meanwhile, said the country’s plan to declare Hamas a terrorist organization was its way of expressing solidarity with Israel and ensuring the safety of Filipinos there.
Once done, further actions taken by the government would be in compliance with the antiterror law which was signed in 2020 by then President Rodrigo Duterte. This meant that should a Hamas member enter the Philippines, authorities could immediately arrest them without a warrant, detain them for a certain period, and have their assets frozen by the Anti-Money Laundering Council, he explained.
“This is a clear message by the Philippine government that we will not let the Hamas operate here in our country. That’s really the purpose of the planned designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization,” Malaya said during the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon public briefing on Monday.
So far, three Filipinos have been killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict while three others remain missing. Those killed were caregivers Loreta Alacre and Paul Vincent Castelvi, and nurse Angelyn Peralta Aguirre.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., according to a statement from the Presidential Communications Office (PCO), assured the family of Alacre that her body would immediately be brought home as soon as a humanitarian corridor could be opened for affected civilians.
The PCO said that Marcos spoke by telephone to Alacre’s sister on Sunday to personally extend his condolences. He told the family that the DMW and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) would provide all necessary assistance to those affected by the armed conflict.
The PCO, quoting an Owwa report to the president, said a government assistance package would be extended to all Filipinos affected by the ongoing conflict. For the families of the three fatalities, it would include P200,000 in cash assistance from Owwa and P50,000 from the DMW.
Both agencies would also provide wake and burial aid of P20,000 while shouldering repatriation and transportation costs from the airport to the victims’ respective houses in the Philippines.
For those to be repatriated, Owwa would provide P20,000 cash assistance to inactive members while the DMW would distribute P50,000 in cash.