Israel-Hamas war

3 Filipinos remain in Gaza City; 1 still feared a Hamas hostage

Bea Cupin

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3 Filipinos remain in Gaza City; 1 still feared a Hamas hostage

JOURNEY TO SAFETY. Palestinians flee their houses heading toward the southern part of Gaza Strip after Israel's call for more than 1 million civilians in northern Gaza to move south within 24 hours, amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza City October 13, 2023.

Ahmed Zakot/REUTERS

Two Filipinos remain missing in Israel – one of them, according to Israeli officials – is believed to have been among those kept hostage by the militant Hamas

MANILA, Philippines – At least three Filipinos remain in Gaza City, even as Israeli attacks on the Palestinian enclave intensify, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in an online briefing in Manila on Wednesday, October 25.

Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega, who handles migrant workers affairs for the DFA, said the three were identified as a Filipino-Palestinian man and his child who returned to Gaza City after fleeing to the south to visit his father-in-law, who sustained shrapnel wounds. The father and son have sought shelter in the same hospital where their elder Palestinian relative was being treated.

The other one, said De Vega, is a Filipino nun who stayed Gaza City despite a warning from Israel.

“She has a calling, you know. Maybe you can give me advice. I mean, how do you tell a sister if she says ‘this is her calling,’ how do we tell her, ‘get out of there.’ Maybe God is calling on her to stay there. Hopefully, she’ll be repatriated. Hopefully, she’ll accept it,” added De Vega.

The three were among the 136 Filipinos still trapped in Gaza, even as Israel bombarded the thin strip of land, and with a ground assault looming. The rest of the 133 Filipinos in Gaza are already in the southernmost areas, seeking shelter in different buildings there.

Their conditions are “not ideal,” said De Vega, but they have all been accounted for as of the press briefing.

The Philippines has been working on bringing home all of its nationals in Gaza who want to be repatriated to Manila. Now in Gaza are Filipinas married to Palestinians, their children, and grandchildren. The man who returned to Gaza City with his minor child, said De Vega, is a second-generation Palestinian-born Filipino-Palestine.

“We hope again that there will be a decision that will allow them to cross. It’s a positive step that humanitarian aid is coming in,” he added.

The DFA, as well as the Philippine Embassies in Amman and Cairo have been working on the repatriation of Filipinos in Gaza for weeks now, or when the conflict between Hamas and Israel erupted as a result of a surprise attack by the militant Palestinian group.

International groups led by the United Nations have called on the establishment of a humanitarian corridor that would allow refugees out of and aid into Gaza.

Aid finally entered Gaza for the first time since hostilities started on October 7, but United Nations agencies have said it is far from enough. Parties involved have so far failed in negotiating the exit of foreign nationals from Gaza.

The Philippine embassy in Cairo is prepared to bring home some 150 individuals should refugees from Gaza be let out. Less than 80 Filipinos have signified their desire to flee, a figure De Vega expects to rise should a humanitarian corridor be brokered.

The embassy in Egypt, where refugees will be processed before they eventually leave, is also preparing for contingencies should the Palestinian Authority manage to negotiate with Egypt to let its nationals, including those married to Filipino nationals, also leave Gaza.

De Vega said the Philippines submitted the names of the Palestinians who are married to Filipinos, but did not negotiate a potential exit from Gaza on their behalf.

“If they are allowed to cross the border to Egypt, we will process their visa applications and of course, we’re going to follow visa rules on issuance of visas to foreign spouses of Filipino nationals,” said De Vega.

Filipino feared a hostage

Four Filipinos have been confirmed killed following Hamas’ attack on Israel. Of the four, the remains of one has already been brought home to Bacolod City. The two were cremated and their remains, turned over to family in Israel, while the remains of one national were still in Israel.

Two Filipinos remain unaccounted for, according to the Philippine embassy in Tel Aviv.

De Vega said Israelis “believe” that one of the two missing Filipinos is a man who was “likely a hostage” when Hamas first attacked. “For the protection of the hostages we won’t reveal exactly what we’re doing other than to confirm that we are talking to all who may be able to help us,” said De Vega. At least four hostages have been released, two weeks into the war.

“Hopefully if there’s a Philippine hostage or two that they will also be released… [but] no, we are not talking to Hamas. We are talking to governments,” added De Vega.

Repatriation from the Levant

Of the 30,500 Filipinos living in Israel, only 59 have chosen to return to the Philippines amid the war. They arrived in batches, via commercial flights, in the past week.

Repatriation from Gaza will also be done via commercial flights from Egypt and will cover only Filipinos. That means their spouses, should they be let through, must shoulder their trip to Manila. The Philippines has long placed Gaza under Alert Level 4, because of the escalation of strikes and the threat of a ground invasion.

Nearby Lebanon, meanwhile has been placed under Alert Level 3, meaning only voluntary repatriation is in place. There are about 17,500 Filipinos working in Lebanon, which southernmost part if under threat because of skirmishes between Hezbollah and Israel. So far, 113 have asked for repatriation.

Like for Filipinos in Israel and Gaza, Filipinos in Lebanon will be repatriated through commercial flights.

Of the 122 Filipinos in the West Bank, only four have said that they wanted to return to the Philippines. De Vega said the Philippines was “considering” raising the Alert Level in the West Bank from 2 to 3, again triggering voluntary repatriation for Filipino nationals. “But there is no threat of a war, or of Israel launching a ground assault on the West Bank that way they say they will do in Gaza,” added De Vega.

Getting nationals out of the West Bank would not be as difficult as in Gaza, since people can still exit through Jordan, said the DFA. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.