MANILA, Philippines — Seven Filipinos in Israel working near the Gaza Strip are unaccounted for and are feared to have been taken by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which launched attacks on the Jewish state, sources said yesterday.
The Filipinos could not be contacted through their mobile phones and were observed to have made no social media activities since the attacks.
The Philippine embassy in Tel Aviv, in a report to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), said six Filipinos were unaccounted for on record. The embassy report did not say where the Filipinos lived and worked, or where they may have been taken hostage by the militants. The embassy said the Filipinos could not be contacted by phone or through their social media accounts.
“The embassy is working non-stop with Israeli security authorities and community contacts to ascertain their condition. We continue to await feedback from them,” the embassy said.
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Arnell Ignacio, meanwhile, placed the number of missing at five, and belied reports they had been taken by the militants as hostages.
One Filipino, he said, was recuperating at a hospital after being treated for a minor gunshot wound sustained during rescue operation. OWWA identified him as Joey Fasulingan.
This was confirmed by the DFA, which said that the Filipino was treated at a hospital in Be’ersheva. Another Filipino was treated for smoke inhalation and brought to a hotel in Tel Aviv.
Video record of missing
A Filipina reached out to the embassy to inform authorities that she recognized her husband, a Filipino and one of the six unaccounted for, in one of the videos circulating in social media, which showed a man being held by armed men and most likely taken to Gaza.
“Post (embassy) urgently relayed this to the Israel military authorities. Post cannot independently verify his identity based on the video alone but considers the report of the wife as important. We are also working with community contacts on his case,” the embassy said.
As of yesterday, 20 Filipinos have been rescued and transferred to safer areas or housed in hotels. According to records of Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority, there are about 30,000 Filipinos in Israel.
The DFA said the Philippine embassy in Amman, Jordan has received requests for repatriation from Filipinos in Gaza.
The embassy said the number of Filipinos requesting to be repatriated may change, as some of them are still undecided.
“But as of date, 25 who have signified their intention, informed Post they want to leave Gaza,” the embassy said. According to the DFA, there are 137 Filipinos in Gaza.
The Philippine embassy in Tel Aviv has strongly recommended that all air travel to Israel be postponed indefinitely, or until the situation has normalized as the security situation remains volatile.
“In the meantime, the Ben Gurion International Airport remains open, and travel from Israel to the Philippines continues. Those with confirmed flights, however, are advised to check with their travel agency for possible flight cancellations,” the embassy said in its advisory.
5 accounted for
At a public hearing, OWWA’s Ignacio said five Filipinos – Grace Cabrera, Shelly Morillo, Norilyn Babadilla, Gallenor Pacheco and Loreta Alacre – have been accounted for.
According to Ignacio, OWWA personnel fetched Pacheco’s spouse from Cagayan Valley so she could directly get an update on the situation in Israel.
Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) officer-in-charge Hans Cacdac said the search for the five missing Filipinos is ongoing.
“Efforts continue. It’s possible they are in safe rooms or in houses where they have transferred or moved to places where their fellow Filipinos might be,” Cacdac said.
He cited difficulty communicating with some Filipinos as they may have opted to turn off their cell phones.
He said the DMW is assisting so far 25 OFWs and their families by monitoring their situation and putting them on safer ground.
DMW, he said, launched a Google survey among Filipinos in Gaza and 281 responded by saying they were safe. Four asked for assistance.
Ignacio stressed the OWWA is ready to repatriate Filipinos who would opt to return home.
“If given full clearance to repatriate, there won’t be any problem for us, as we have enough experience to carry it out,” he said in Filipino.
Historically, however, many Filipinos in Israel would opt for government help to be evacuated to safer areas rather than to be repatriated, Ignacio pointed out.
A government contingency plan, including repatriation, is already in place and ready for implementation just in case, he added.
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte has expressed concern over the recent escalation of conflict between Israel and Hamas, which has resulted in hundreds of deaths and displacement of thousands.
Prayer for sister city
In a statement, Belmonte said she and the city government are praying for peace and for the safety of those in the affected areas, particularly Quezon City’s sister city of Rishon LeZion in Israel.
“Our thoughts are also on the thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers who may be affected by this unfortunate circumstance,” said the mayor.
“We join the international community in calling for the immediate resolution of this bloody unrest, which has already claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent men, women and children. It is hoped that all parties involved exercise maximum restraint to avert further deterioration of the situation,” she added.
Belmonte underscored the importance of people coming together “to advocate a lasting and sustainable peace.”
Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Norman Tansingco revealed yesterday their designation of special teams to hasten the processing of documents of Filipinos and their families who would be repatriated from Israel.
“Should they come in special flights, we will have a dedicated team to process their documents immediately upon arrival,” Tansingco said in a statement. He said they are closely coordinating with the DFA and the DMW.
“The safety of our kababayans is a top priority for the government,” he said. “The BI will do what it can to extend assistance to agencies involved in repatriation of Filipinos.”
Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman George Garcia, meanwhile, said the poll body is suspending indefinitely the registration of overseas voters in Israel for the 2025 national and local elections.
Garcia said they have no choice but suspend the registration citing the escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza. He said the Comelec, convened as a whole, is expected to approve tomorrow a resolution suspending the overseas voter registration in Israel. — Evelyn Macairan, Janvic Mateo