October 13, 2023
MANILA – As Hamas fighters swooped into Israel in a coordinated air, sea and land assault on Oct. 7, Angelyn Peralta Aguirre took refuge in a bomb shelter together with her elderly patient. From there she sent frantic messages to her family in Binmaley, Pangasinan.
“Wadiya la ra. Natatakot ak (They are already here. I am afraid),” the 33-year-old caregiver said in one voice message sent to the family chat group at 1:50 p.m., Philippine time.
More panicked text messages from Aguirre followed. Around 5 p.m., she went silent.
“At that moment we were praying for her safety. We did not expect that she would be killed,” her sister Wilma told reporters in an interview from their house on Thursday.
Israeli officials are hailing Aguirre as a hero for showing courage when she refused to abandon her 70-year-old patient at a time when she had a choice to leave and save her own life.
In a post on X, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum heaped praises on the Filipino woman.
“Despite having a chance to flee the Hamas terror attacks, Angelyn showed unbelievable humanity and loyalty by remaining by Nira’s side during the violence, resulting in both of them being brutally murdered by Hamas. Unimaginable honor in the face of evil,” she said.
Esty Buzgan, deputy chief of mission at the Israel Embassy in Manila, said: “Our heart goes to Angelyn and her family, please receive my sympathy and condolence for her loss. It’s like losing one of us; it hurts the same.”
Aguirre was one of two overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) confirmed to have died in the Jewish-majority country, following the shock assault by Hamas militants near the Gaza border, sparking the declaration of war and a flurry of retaliatory airstrikes and bombardment by Israeli forces.
The other victim was Paul Vincent Castelvi, a 42-year-old caregiver from Pampanga, who had reportedly been abducted by the militants before his body was found.
Until Thursday, the identities of the two victims had been kept under wraps in deference to their families’ wishes. A possible third Filipino victim is being verified, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Difficult phone calls
On Wednesday night, President Marcos extended his condolences to the relatives of the two Filipinos killed in the war in Israel, assuring them of full government support.
“Last night (Wednesday), I made two of the most difficult phone calls I’ve had to make as President. The nation is one in grieving with the families of the Filipinos who were killed in the attacks on Israel,” the President said in a post on his social media accounts.
“We will provide the utmost support to the families they were taken from. This tragedy will not deter our spirit. We will continue to stand for peace,” he added.
Reached by the Inquirer on Thursday, Castelvi’s father Lourdines burst into sobs as he demanded justice for Castelvi’s death.
“We want justice for Paul,” the 71-year-old said on the phone.
Castelvi had been the family’s breadwinner, according to his father.
A high school graduate, Castelvi worked in Saudi Arabia for 10 years as a school bus driver to support his three siblings and parents before finding work as a caregiver in Israel.
In Pangasinan, Aguirre’s sister said the family learned that Aguirre and her Israeli employer had been lying in bed when the terrorists attacked the houses in Kibbutz Kfar in Gaza.
Wilma said everyone grew worried when Aguirre stopped responding to their messages.
It was only on Monday when it was confirmed that Aguirre had perished, along with her employer.
According to the employer’s daughter, she was on a video call with her mother when the Hamas militants were pushing their way into the house.
“I think this is the end of my life,” the employer told her daughter in the video call, as quoted by Aguirre’s family.
The daughter told Aguirre’s family how the caregiver bravely helped her patient as they rushed to the bomb shelter.
But the shelter had no locks and the militants fired through the door.
“Wadiya la rad abong. Say shelter mi anggapoy lock. Nayari dan idepak. Mandasal kayo. Nasumpal la kumon (They are in the house now. Our shelter has no lock. They can kick it open. Please pray. I hope this stops)!” Aguirre said in one of her last text messages.
Later, her other sister Angenica, who is also working in Israel, informed the family that she had lost contact with Aguirre but had heard reports that a Filipino woman and her employer had been killed and that power was out in Kibbutz Kfar.
Aguirre, a physical therapy graduate from Our Lady of Fatima University in Valenzuela City, had been in Israel for six years.
Mr. Marcos, in a phone call to Angenica, promised to have Aguirre’s remains brought home as soon as possible, the family said.
Similar arrangements are being made for Castelvi’s body, but it might wait till December, according to his father.
Explaining the expected delay, Lourdines said Castelvi’s widow was due to give birth and would need to recover first for the trip back to the Philippines.
In Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, the family of another caregiver Loreta Villarin Alacre, 49, said she had been missing since Saturday, the day Hamas attacked.
Alacre reportedly attended a music festival near Gaza Strip, one of the areas targeted by the militants.
In a post on Facebook, Alacre’s employer Noam Solomon said her “devoted caregiver” for six years had gone missing.
“Please help find my Lori,” she said.
The employer said one of Alacre’s companions was shot and found in a hospital. “Loreta was last seen near Netivot and Ashkelon,” Solomon posted.
Alacre’s sister Annabella said the last time she spoke to her sister was on Oct. 6.
“We are praying for Loreta’s safe return,” Annabella said, adding that there was no information on whether Alacre had been abducted by the Hamas. Alacre had been working in Tel Aviv for close to 15 years.