MANILA – The Philippine government is exhausting all possible options to extract Filipinos from the Gaza Strip where Israel continues its retaliatory attacks against the Hamas group.
In a Palace briefing Friday, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Eduardo Jose de Vega said, "Nobody right now can get in or out of Gaza," making repatriation impossible as of posting.
The Philippines and other countries are still waiting for a humanitarian corridor to open either via Israel or Egypt.
“(N)ot one has been repatriated yet because of the fact that the Gaza is under blockade but we are working on it. We are working with our partners, the diplomatic partners to see if humanitarian corridor can be opened to allow people to exit,” de Vega said.
He said Manila expects the United Nations Security Council to also call for the opening of a safe corridor on Oct. 13.
Two exit points the Philippines is looking at are through the border with Israel or the Rafah border with Egypt.
“Once it is declared, once the opening is declared, we must be ready and in fact, we are getting ready,” he said. “Our Embassy in Cairo is sending a team to the border. And we are providing them funding to be able to rent transportation to bring (these 92) from the border to Cairo and to fly them to the Philippines.”
President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has also instructed the DFA to coordinate with foreign governments to provide critical assistance in looking for Filipinos who are still unaccounted for and help get them out of Gaza if they were taken there.
“In the President’s words, what is critical now is Gaza and let’s keep exploring all possible exit options,” he said.
The DFA updated the number of Filipinos in Gaza from 139 to 131, noting that other Filipinos had left before the conflict erupted.
Of the 131, three Filipinos are tourists while the rest are spouses and children of Palestinian nationals.
Israel's army has reportedly ordered on Friday the evacuation of all civilians in the north of Gaza and Gaza City within 24 hours, with local reports positing that it could be preparing a ground offensive on the besieged enclave.
‘None in West Bank’
Meanwhile, none of the 70 Filipinos in the West Bank – one of the two Palestinian territories – has asked the government for repatriation.
“(N)ot one of the Filipinos there would be interested in leaving because, well, they don’t feel the violence from that area,” de Vega said.
“But there may be unrest because there will be protests, the usual rallies. So, they’re just advised to take utmost precautions.”
At present, Alert Level 3, or voluntary repatriation, is in place in the Gaza Strip while Alert Level 2 is imposed in the West Bank.
“May I clarify, Hamas is not the government of Palestine – it is the government in Ramallah which is in the West Bank,” de Vega said.
“(T)he official Palestinian government is in favor of a diplomatic solution to their issues with Israel, eventually a two-state solution.”
The State of Palestine is composed of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority (PA) lost security control over the latter when the Islamic militant party Hamas seized the enclave in 2007.
Hamas has since been Gaza’s de facto authority while PA head and State of Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas took control of the West Bank.
‘Ready’ to facilitate repatriation
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., meanwhile, said the government is "ready, willing, and able to facilitate repatriation" of Filipinos amid the Israel-Hamas war.
"I think that’s the call already of the DFA and those who wish to be repatriated, and the DMW (Department of Migrant Workers). But we stand ready to do whatever is required of us and I’m glad that there’s the NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council) where we can all converge para united 'yung effort (so that our efforts will be united)," Teodoro said on the sidelines of the launch of the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2024.
The Philippine Air Force earlier said it is ready to deploy two aircraft, a C-130 and a C-295, with their crews and other needed personnel, should repatriation proceed.
When asked about a possible spillover or "copycat" attack, Teodoro reminded the public to be vigilant and report suspicious-looking actions in their communities. (With report from Ma. Teressa Montemayor and Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)