President Marcos: Explore all exit points for Pinoys in Gaza
MANILA, Philippines — The number of Filipinos confirmed killed in the Hamas attacks in Israel has risen to three, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), as President Marcos ordered concerned government agencies yesterday to explore all exit options for Filipinos willing to be repatriated from the blockaded Gaza Strip.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega identified the latest confirmed fatality as a 49-year-old woman from Negros Occidental.
He said the victim, who was also a caregiver, died in the attack at a music festival in Kibbutz on Oct. 7. The Department of Migrant Workers identified her as Loreta Villarin Alacre.
“What we understand is she was one of the attendees and a lot of people died there,” De Vega said at a press briefing at Malacañang.
More than 200 people were killed at the music festival, usually held during the Sukkot, an Israeli holiday.
De Vega said the family of the victim and the President were already informed about the latest Filipino casualty in the raging war between Israeli forces and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
“Her family is aware, the President is aware and the Philippine government of course is working with the family. The embassy in Israel is in touch with the sisters who are in Kuwait actually for the repatriation of remains,” De Vega said.
“We join the nation in extending our deepest sympathies to the relatives of the latest casualty who was also a caregiver. Of course, we thank also the Israelis for their assistance for our kababayans who need protection in Israel right now,” he said.
The two other Filipino casualties were 36-year-old Angelyn Aguirre of Pangasinan and 42-year-old Paul Vincent Castelvi from Pampanga.
Quoting reports from the embassy, De Vega said three Filipinos remain missing.
“However, it doesn’t mean that there is no hope because as we said before, there were a lot more missing a week ago – now the (missing persons) are getting fewer. So possibly, these three will still show up, we hope,” he said partly in Filipino.
During a meeting with DFA officials at Malacañang on Thursday, Marcos ordered concerned government agencies to exhaust all remedies available to start the repatriation of Filipinos in Gaza.
“And in the President’s words, what is critical now is Gaza and let’s keep exploring all possible exit options,” De Vega said.
92 want out
He said 92 of the 131 Filipinos in Gaza wanted to return to the Philippines. “That’s over 70 percent and not one has been repatriated yet because of the fact that the Gaza is under blockade but we are working on it,” De Vega said.
“We are working with our partners, the diplomatic partners, to see if a humanitarian corridor can be opened to allow people to exit through… obviously if not the border with Israel, through the Rafah border with Egypt,” he said.
De Vega said once a humanitarian corridor opens, the Philippine embassy in Cairo would send a team to the border to fly all 92 Filipinos from Egypt to the Philippines.
“So we are also talking with our friends from Egypt about that so that our kababayans who want to be repatriated could be brought there,” he said.
The DFA official said 22 Filipinos in Israel have also expressed their intention to go home, and eight of them are set to leave next week.
“There are at least 22 Filipinos in Israel who have indicated that they want to go home. The first batch at the government’s expense will be leaving on Oct. 16 – there are eight of them,” De Vega said.
He said Indonesia has offered assistance to help Filipinos who want to leave the West Bank, which is on the east of Israel and borders Jordan.
De Vega said the DMW and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) would shoulder the Filipinos’ travel expenses and extend them proper assistance.
“Once they arrive, they’ll be given the proper assistance. The usual reintegration and other assistance packages provided by the DMW and the OWWA,” De Vega said. “And, of course, that includes the receipt of ayuda, financial assistance.”
The foreign affairs official clarified there are still flights going in and out of Israel, but it is not yet advisable for Filipinos to travel to the country. De Vega said the situation in Israel is more stable than in Gaza.
“The situation in Israel is not a big problem if it refers to the evacuation of nationals because the situation there is more stable and we’re ready to repatriate them and we don’t expect big numbers,” he said.
Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said the Armed Forces of the Philippines is ready to repatriate Filipinos in Israel, and that he is awaiting guidance from President Marcos on how to implement a voluntary repatriation.
He said he could not tell yet the level of danger in Israel, but stressed the DFA is on top of the situation.
Speaker Martin Romualdez and his wife, Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Romualdez, have extended a personal donation of P500,000 for each of the families of the Filipinos killed by Hamas.
“These tragic events remind us of the dangers our fellow Filipinos face even as they seek opportunities abroad. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims during this difficult time,” the Speaker said.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of our countrymen. In these trying times, it’s crucial for us as a nation to come together and support one another. The donation is just a small token of our shared grief and our commitment to help,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) has expressed its condolences to the families of five humanitarian workers killed in Israel and Gaza.
PRC chairman Richard Gordon said humanitarian workers from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty – one from Magen David Adom in Israel and four paramedics from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.
Gordon urged both sides of the conflict to respect the principles of international humanitarian law “to the utmost,” which mandates the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure during armed conflict.