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MANILA, Philippines – Jimmy Pacheco, a Filipino caregiver in Israel who was captured and held hostage by Hamas fighters, arrived home to his family in the Philippines on Monday, December 18.
Pacheco was one of the two known Filipinos hostaged by the Palestinian militant group Hamas during the group’s attack on Israel on October 7. He was released on November 24 during the war’s first truce. The second Filipino hostage, Noralin Babadilla, was announced released on November 29.
His wife, three minor children, and mother were there when he exited the plane that brought him to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Monday morning. As he walked through the tube, he was all smiles as he embraced his family.
“Masaya po ako na nandito na ako sa Pilipinas. Nakita ko na ‘yung mga anak ko, pamilya ko, asawa ko. Parang panaginip lang ito sa ‘kin,” he told reporters. (I am happy to be here in the Philippines. I finally saw my children, my family, my wife. This feels like a dream.)
The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and Israeli embassy in Manila were also there to escort Pacheco during his arrival.
Almost losing hope
Prompted to tell details of his capture to the extent that he was comfortable, Pacheco began with the October 7 attack from his eyes. At 6:30 am, he heard an alert in his kibbutz or village that there would be rockets. Like other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who escaped the situation in Israel, he said that he was initially unfazed, as rockets in his area near the Gazan border, in the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, were “normal.”
He and his ward went into a safe room until he looked outside the window and saw that Hamas fighters had infiltrated their kibbutz.
“Sabi [ng alaga ko] sa akin, i-lock ko daw lahat ng mga pintuan. Then, isekyu ko daw ‘yung buhay ko daw kasi matanda naman talaga siya. Pero mas pinili ko pa rin nag-stay sa kanya hanggang sa huling hininga niya po,” said Pacheco.
(My ward told me to lock all the doors. Then I was told to save myself because my ward was already old. But I chose to stay until their last breath.)
But the Hamas found their way into their shelter and began shooting. Pacheco’s ward was shot to death, while he was grazed in his legs.
Pacheco stopped short of speaking of his experience being captured for 49 days.
Pacheco’s wife Clarice said she lost hope during the time of his capture.
“Dumating din ‘yung panahon na nawalan na ako ng pag-asa kasi akala ko wala na. Kasi for 49 days, hindi ko po talaga nakausap or wala po kaming balita. So, napakalungkot po noon. Kaya mabuti na lang po, God is good po. Kaya salamat po kasi nakabalik pa siya kasi delikado po kasi doon e,” she told reporters.
(There came a point when I lost hope because I thought he was gone. Because for 49 days, I could not speak to him, and we didn’t receive any updates. It was such a sad time. Good thing God is good. I’m thankful he was able to return because it’s dangerous there.)
Meanwhile, Pacheco’s mother Felicitas held on to hope that he was still alive.
“Hindi ako makatulog noon saka makakain. Kahit may birthday sa amin, hindi na ako pupunta kasi sabi nilang mga tao, patay na siya. Pero hindi ako naniniwala. Sa Diyos na lang ako, kay Lord, nagdadasal,” she said.
(I could not sleep nor eat then. Even if someone had a birthday party in our area, I didn’t go because people kept saying that he was dead. But I didn’t believe them. I just prayed to God.)
Plan to return despite gov’t assistance
Pacheco said that despite being happy to be home, he was set on returning to Israel after the holidays to continue providing for his family. This, despite various forms of assistance from the Philippines and Israel.
“Babalik po ako ng Israel dahil para masekyu ko po ‘yung [buhay ng mga anak ko]. Kahit ganoon po ‘yung nakaraan ko, maibigay ko lang ‘yung gusto kong gawin sa kanila. Kasi ganoon naman po dapat ang mga magulang. Saka ayaw ko pong maranasan nila ‘yung paghihirap ko simula bata hanggang ngayon na nahihirapan,” he said.
(I will go back to Israel so I can secure my children’s lives. Even if I experienced this, I just want to give what I had dreamed of giving to them. Because that’s what parents should do. And I don’t want them to experience the difficulties I went through ever since I was a child up until now.)
OWWA Administrator Arnell Ignacio said that the processing of scholarships for his three children was underway, while DMW Officer-in-Charge Hans Cacdac mentioned livelihood and health assistance to be given to the OFW’s family. Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Ilan Fluss said that Pacheco was covered by Israeli law to receive financial support as a “victim of terror.”
“Kahit sinasabi nilang may lifetime pension po, ayaw ko pong umasa doon, kasi mas maganda pa rin na sabayan ko po ‘yun. Kung magkatotoo man ‘yun, better po,” said Pacheco. (Even if they say that I will receive a lifetime pension, I don’t want to depend on that, because it would be better for me to work alongside that. If that follows through, better.)
Clarice said that she understood her husband’s decision.
“Actually, may trauma na rin ako, pero kailangan po e. Kailangan po niyang bumalik din (I actually have trauma already, but we need this. He needs to go back),” she said.
Clarice said that Pacheco’s employer – the family of his ward who died – was recommending him to new employers. There were three new families who were looking to hire him.
For now, Pacheco is home for the holidays.
“Sa Paskong ‘to, masayang-masaya, at ito ‘yung unang Pasko na mangyayari sa ‘min, na magsama-sama since nag-OFW po ako [noong 2018] (This Christmas will be so joyful because this is the first Christmas that we’d be together since I became an OFW in 2018),” he said. – Rappler.com