October 12, 2023
MANILA – Repatriating Filipinos in the Gaza Strip in Palestine in the middle of the ongoing armed conflict there would be way more difficult than repatriating those in Israel, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) officials admitted to a House of Representatives panel on Wednesday.
In Israel, the repatriation would be handled by the Department of Migrant Workers as mandated by Philippine law, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega.
In Gaza, the lead agency would be the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), as there are no Philippine representatives, with the embassy in Jordan monitoring the situation.
“So in Gaza, we need a lot of political diplomacy to be able to repatriate them. And I repeat, the number goes up. But right now out of the 137 [Filipinos there], 70 are asking for repatriation,” De Vega said.
“Of course, we can’t give details as to how we’re going to work on it. It’s a sensitive issue, but we will work on it in accordance with the president’s instructions.”
Ambassador Wilfredo Santos, who is stationed in Jordan, backed up De Vega. He said it might be dangerous to leave the Gaza Strip now since exit points had been blocked and were being attacked.
According to Santos, other countries have not conducted forced evacuation right now because Israeli forces and Hamas militant fighters are still engaged in skirmishes, which may put the lives of evacuees in peril.
“In fact, we received a report that Palestinian Americans are having a difficult time getting out of Gaza because the one exit point to Egypt has been attacked, under attack for the past several days,” Santos said.
“One Asean embassy in Jordan has approached us and requested [us] if we can also help them in our repatriation. So for now, until we have a humanitarian corridor that will allow the safe passage of our third-country nationals, including the Filipinos, it may not be feasible to undertake an exit or evacuation of our nationals because we have to consider, Your Honor, the safety of our nationals who will be undergoing this procedure.”
“But we continue, our embassy in Amman continues to coordinate not only with international organizations, with limited presence in Gaza, for assistance to our nationals,” he added.
“Our embassy in Amman is also coordinating closely with our Philippine embassies in Tel-Aviv, and in Cairo, which are both also making representations with their host governments in assisting our nationals for their repatriation, in case the repatriation will go through Israel or Egypt.”
No cause to declare Alert Level 4
Batangas 2nd District Rep. Gerville Luistro asked the DFA officials when they could possibly declare Alert Level 4, which would require automatic repatriation.
“Your Honor, I think the attacks are targeting Hamas, and the air attacks of Israel are targeting Muslim Hamas militants. And we have so far, we have not received any casualties from our Filipino community members in Gaza. They are residing far from the border area with Israel. They are in Central Gaza,” Santos noted.
“So we cannot recommend Alert Level 4 because there’s not a total breakdown of peace and order. Of course, Gaza is ruled by Hamas. So for now we will recommend only Alert Level 3. That calls for voluntary repatriation.”
Earlier, the DFA confirmed that two Filipinos died amid the skirmishes between the Israeli troops and Hamas fighters. Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo has not yet provided other details on the fatalities, but the DFA assured the public that the government would continue providing all possible assistance to distressed Filipino nationals.
Death toll over 1,000
Hundreds of people in Israel died after a surprise attack from Hamas last Oct. 7, forcing the Israeli government to declare war against the group. At least 300,000 reservists have been called up as Israel plans to launch counter-offensives against the militants, which are based in Palestine.
Israel, believed to have one of the world’s best air defenses with its vaunted Iron Dome, was shocked over the weekend with missile strikes from Hamas which began an air, water, and land assault from Gaza.
As of now, the death toll in the area has surged over 1,000.
Analysts believe that the attack heightened Middle East tensions again to levels unseen since the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. Hamas has threatened to kill Israeli captives every time a civilian building is bombed by Israel’s forces.