October 9, 2023
MANILA – Eight overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been rescued from the town of Kibbutz Be’eri, an area close to the Gaza Strip where the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas launched attacks against Israel early Saturday.
According to Anthony Mandap, deputy chief of mission and consul general at the Philippine Embassy in Israel, the eight OFWs, who were mostly caregivers, were rescued from the battle zone by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) around 6 a.m. on Sunday (Israel time).
Another Filipino who was staying in the same area remained unaccounted for, he said.
“There were talks that he was injured probably during the rescue operation and that he could possibly be taken by Hamas. As of now, he’s still unaccounted for,” Mandap said, adding that references to Hamas were based on the testimonies of the victims.
“Not our own conclusion,” he told the Inquirer in a phone interview.
He added that there could be other Filipinos who might have been abducted by the attackers.
“We have unverified information of Filipinos having been taken by Hamas. We’re still looking into that. We have no information about their identities or their exact number,” he noted.
“This is a developing story. It’s quite possible there were Filipinos taken hostage along with their employers. Typically, Filipinos would not leave their wards behind. So most probably they were also taken along with them,” he said, adding that they were coordinating with their contacts in the Gaza Strip, particularly the Filipino community, to gather information on how authorities can secure the victims’ release.
He said there were also unverified reports of Filipinos injured in the attacks, and verified reports of others who remained trapped in Kibbutz Be’eri.
One of the eight Filipinos rescued, Monica Biboso, was taken to the hospital by rescuers after the attackers burned the house of her Israeli employer.
“She was rescued together with her employer. They were taken to the hospital as they felt suffocated. But according to her, they already have a clearance to leave the hospital,” said Mandap, who spoke to Biboso on Sunday.
He noted that Biboso sounded “so stressed and worried, almost on the verge of crying.”
“She said she needed clothes. We wanted to visit them and provide [for] their immediate needs, but we are still constrained by the ongoing military operation,” the consul general explained.
Some other OFWs were asking the embassy to fetch them.
“The problem is we want to help them but there is a strict guideline from the IDF, we can’t venture into the area because these are considered war zones. We cannot yet visit them and attend to their needs. But we are in touch with them by phone,” he said.
According to him, as soon as they are permitted and the situation is safe, they would visit the OFWs and provide them with their immediate needs.
Mandap said he had no information whether the houses where the seven other rescued OFWs were staying were also burned down by the militants.
“Most likely they were rescued from the bomb shelters where they have been incommunicado because there is no signal there,” he said.
Asked about their situation, Mandap said, “It’s still tense but we’re coping.”
“As of now, repatriation is still not being planned because of the critical security situation. It’s still unsafe to go out. Of course, we have plans in place in case it would be necessary to transport people from one place to a more secure location,” he pointed out.
Outside war zone
Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, in a post on Twitter on Sunday, said the Philippines was monitoring the situation in Israel and “will continue to look after the welfare of Filipinos who are affected by the current situation.”
According to the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) office in charge, Hans Leo Cacdac, the agency is accounting for OFWs in Israel, particularly in areas near the Gaza Strip.
“There are shelters where they are safe. Some have been evacuated to safer places but more often than not, they are safe in their shelters. We continue to account for our OFWs on the ground, particularly those located in the southern part of Israel. There are no Filipinos reported killed or injured,” he said in a television interview.
“I heard about reports of Philippine nationals… We know that there were some foreign nationals who have been killed and probably some who have been kidnapped. We don’t have any verification of the information regarding Filipino nationals at this stage,” said Israel Ambassador to the Philippines Ilan Fluss in an online briefing on Sunday morning.
“We’re still in an emergency situation and things have not yet stabilized. We don’t have enough information yet on the identities and names of the people that were killed, injured, and kidnapped,” he added.
But Fluss gave his assurance that Israel would protect Filipinos working in the country in the same way it protects other members of Israeli society.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), there are more than 30,000 Filipinos in Israel, but most of them are outside the war zone in the southern portion near the Gaza Strip.
PH Embassy closed
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Sunday directed the DMW, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa), and other agencies to ensure the safety of OFWs and the Filipino community in Israel.
The Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said Marcos ordered agencies to “closely coordinate” with the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Migrant Workers Office in Israel to secure the Filipinos there.
The Philippine Embassy in Israel said in a Facebook post that it would be closed beginning Sunday “until further notice, due to the current security situation.”
“For emergencies, please contact the embassy’s emergency number, +972-54-4661188,” it added.
The PCO said the President has instructed the DMW and Owwa to locate and account for all OFWs and their families.
“The DMW has opened a hotline and several Viber and WhatsApp hotline numbers that will accept calls and queries from our OFWs and the Filipino community who are in need of government assistance,” it added.
Speaker Martin Romualdez assured Filipinos in Israel that concerned agencies are “working overtime” to ensure their safety.
Senators on Sunday also called on the DMW and the DFA to immediately coordinate with their counterparts to ensure the safety of nearly 25,000 Filipinos in Israel.
“We urge the full utilization of the Assistance to Nationals Fund for this purpose,” Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri told reporters.
Sen. Raffy Tulfo said his office had already contacted Owwa to help monitor the situation of affected Filipinos.
Sen. Grace Poe said their repatriation “should be calibrated for those who want to go home while the borders are still open.”