18 agri scholars stuck in Israel now back in PH
Eighteen Filipinos participating in the agriculture internship program of Agrostudies, an international training center in one of the heavily bombarded cities in Israel, have returned home safely to their families in Pampanga province on Tuesday.
Many of them looked dazed and sleepless, such as Matthew Lacsina, who said the bombings became more frequent after terrorists entered Ashkelon on Sukkot, a holy day, on Oct. 6.
No one among them had fresh wounds or bruises.
Paying for their own plane fare from allowances as farm interns for 11 months on Kfar Silver Campus in Ashkelon, they left via Tel Aviv to Dubai then to Manila.
Pampanga Gov. Dennis Pineda had them fetched from Ninoy Aquino International Airport under the Capitol’s Balik-Pinas program for returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My sadness and worry are gone because my son returned home safely,” said Leonila Lapuz, a resident of Barangay Lourdes in Candaba town.
Her son Gabriel told reporters he was happy to be reunited with his family.
Their leader, Aldrin Pabalate, said the Philippine Embassy in Israel, the Aguman Kapampangan and Tropang Kapampangan led by Marvin Dabu Cuellar, as well as Filipino pastors took them away from the bombings, transferred them to shelters to protect them from “ground infiltrations” by the terrorists.
They were stranded for four days to a week in Tel Aviv until their flight home.
Post-traumatic stress debriefing sessions would be available to these graduates, said Angelina Blanco, chief of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.
Blanco said they could also seek employment in the office of the provincial agriculturist.
OFWs coming home
Seventeen other Filipinos from Tel Aviv will be arriving in the Philippines today (Wednesday), with the government promising financial assistance worth P100,000 to each of them.
According to the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), the 17 OFWs were to leave the Middle Eastern country on Tuesday.
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) Administrator Arnell Ignacio said on Tuesday that the repatriated Filipinos would be receiving cash assistance worth P50,000 from Owwa and another P50,000 from the DMW.
He added that the financial assistance for the returning Filipinos was higher than usual to make up for the high salaries that OFWs in Israel were making.
“They have a lot of expenses that will be left pending now since they just lost their jobs,” Ignacio said.
There are 30,000 Filipinos in Israel, most of whom work as caregivers for that country’s aging population.
The surprise attack by Hamas on Israel on Oct. 7 resulted in the loss of jobs of several OFWs, especially those located in the southern part of Israel that was targeted by the Palestinian strikes.
According to Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), eight of the arriving Filipinos chose to return since they lost their jobs.
Initially, the first batch of eight Filipinos were supposed to arrive on Oct. 16, but their flight was moved for undisclosed reasons and their trip was combined with that of another batch of nine scheduled to arrive on Wednesday.
There are 131 Filipinos in the Hamas-controlled enclave of Gaza and 78 of them have been moved to the southern part of the strip near the Rafah crossing.
But with no open border yet to Israel and Egypt, they are still waiting when they can leave the war-torn region.
The DFA said it was in talks with both Egypt and Israel to open a humanitarian corridor to provide safe passage for the Filipinos.
Speaking at the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon news briefing on state television, De Vega said the names of the Filipinos desiring to evacuate Gaza have been submitted to the Egyptian government.
He said the Israeli ambassador told the DFA that the Egyptian government was discussing with Israel the process for the border crossing because both sides did not want Hamas militants to escape to Egypt or to enter Gaza bringing fresh ammunition disguised as humanitarian aid.
“[The Israelis] said it could be any day now that the border crossing will open so our countrymen should be ready and Ambassador [to Jordan and Palestine] Fred Santos has been in touch with our countrymen who are in southern Gaza near the border,” the DFA official said.
The undersecretary said the situation of the 78 Filipinos already in southern Gaza was not good, citing one Filipino mother who reported eating stale bread to survive.
He said a Filipino woman who lives in the area sheltered some of the evacuees.
“Hopefully, at least by this weekend, they can enter Egypt already because when they’re there the repatriation will be faster,” he said.
For the evacuation of foreign nationals, De Vega said there would be a “small corridor” of a few kilometers that people leaving Gaza would take to enter the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt.
The Egyptian immigration authorities would be at the end of the corridor and the DFA was hoping the processing would be quick.
From Sinai, the Filipino evacuees would be fetched by bus from the Philippine Embassy in Cairo for a trip of five to six hours.
The evacuees would be given shelter in Cairo while the embassy staff books flights for them.
Aid for kin
In Congress, lawmakers on Tuesday pushed for scholarships for the children and other dependents of the three OFWs killed in the ongoing war between Israeli forces and Hamas militants.
Ang Probinsyano Rep. Alfred delos Santos pressed the Commission on Higher Education and state universities and colleges to find ways to include the children of Angelyn Peralta Aguirre, Paul Vincent Castelvi and Loreta Alacre, the three OFWs who died in Gaza.
Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera said she would nominate the dependents of the three OFWs to become grantees of the Congressional Migrant Workers Scholarship Program under Owwa.