overseas Filipinos

Marcos: Filipinos out of Gaza by Saturday

Bea Cupin

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Marcos: Filipinos out of Gaza by Saturday

EXIT POINT. A general view of the Rafah border crossing point with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 1, 2023.

Arafat Barbakh/Reuters

(1st UPDATE) President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. says Israel made the promise, and that buses are ready to fetch them at the Rafah Crossing in Egypt

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Friday, November 3, that he expects Filipinos still trapped in Gaza to be let out by Saturday, at the latest.

The President, in a press briefing to announce the appointment of a new agriculture chief, told reporters in Malacañang that Israel has “promised” that Filipinos in Gaza would be allowed out on “Saturday at the latest.”

Marcos said several top Filipino envoys met with Israeli officials in the past few days – Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo met with Israeli Ambassador to Manila Ilan Fluss and Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, while Manila’s Ambassador to Tel Aviv Pedro Laylo paid a call on Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

So, may pangako sila sa atin na maipapalabas na ang mga Pinoy by today or tomorrow, that is what they promised us, Saturday daw at the latest. Nakahanda naman lahat ng ating mga bus, nakahanda na yung embassy natin sa Cairo, matagal na silang nagaantay dun sa tawiran, yung Rafah crossing,” said Marcos.

(They made a promise to let Filipinos out by today or tomorrow, that is what they promised us, Saturday at the latest. Our buses are ready, the embassy in Cairo is ready. They’ve been waiting at the Rafah Crossing.)

There are 134 Filipino nationals still inside Gaza. Two Filipino doctors who are from Médecins Sans Frontières or Doctors Without Borders have since exited through the Rafah crossing. International humanitarian organizations and the critically injured were the first to leave.

The Rafah Crossing is so far the only way out of Gaza.

Of the 134, 115 have signified their desire to leave Gaza, according to Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Eduardo de Vega. The 19 who are undecided include a Filipina nun who has chosen to stay in Gaza City.

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The Philippines and other countries have, for weeks, been trying to negotiate a humanitarian corridor that would allow people to leave Gaza and let aid enter the besieged Palestinian territory. While calls for a ceasefire have been rejected by Israel, it has agreed to a Qatar-negotiated evacuation plan alongside Egypt and the militant Hamas, which administers Gaza.

Gaza, long-described by Human Rights Watch as an “open-air prison,” has been under siege for weeks, following an October 7 surprise attack by the militant Hamas on Israel. That surprise assault killed over 1,400 Israelis including four Filipinos, according to United Nations estimates.

Tel Aviv has responded with a relentless bombardment of Gaza after vowing to crush Hamas. Israeli attacks have hit even civilian areas including refugee camps and hospitals. The United Nations, citing the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, reports that over 9,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s assault – most of them women, children, and the elderly.

It is Israel that decides on who is allowed to exit Gaza, before they proceed to the border of Egypt where their entry is then processed. De Vega earlier told media that around 500 names are produced daily by Israelis. The first batch of more than 500 foreigners allowed out of Gaza were composed mostly of Americans.

Outside of the badly injured, only foreigners or Palestinians with dual citizenship will be allowed to exit Gaza. That means Filipinos in Gaza – Filipinos who married Palestinians, as well as their Filipino-Palestinian children and grandchildren – will have to leave behind family members who are Palestinian.

Marcos has long considered this a problem as Filipinos will have to make the difficult choice of leaving behind their loved ones or leaving them behind for their safety.

“There is also a complication because some of the Filipino nationals, mga babae na nakapangasawa na na Palestinian, hindi pinapalabas yung mga Palestinian. So, many of them are undecided kung gusto nilang umalis o hindi, dahil syempre ayaw nilang iwanan ang asawa nila, ayaw nilang iwanan yung kanilang anak. So, these are the problems that we are facing,” he said.

(…the women who are married to Palestinians, Palestinian nationals are not allowed out. So, many of them are undecided if they want to leave or not, because of course they don’t want to leave behind their spouses, their children.)

In a briefing with reporters in Manila, Fluss said Israel would “do everything from our part to facilitate the safe exit of Filipinos from Gaza.”

“We have to remember that we are in a war. There are also other players in this complicated situation,” he added, referring to the United Nations and Egypt, among other parties.

Fluss also thumbed down hopes that Palestinians married to Filipinos – their family members and loved ones – would be allowed to leave Gaza too. “We are talking only about Filipinos. We said that we will facilitate their exit,” he said. 

The Philippine Embassy in Cairo, however, has still prepared for the best-case scenario should Palestinians married to Filipino nationals be let out. The DFA said they are prepared to fly out 150 individuals from Gaza to the Philippines.

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Manila is also prepared to help its Southeast Asian neighbors in bringing their nationals out of Gaza.

“We have also offered our assistance to other ASEAN countries. Sabi namin, kung sino mauna magtulungan na lang tayo (Whoever is first, let’s just help each other). And it looks like we are the ones there first, because ang presence naman ng Pinoy (Because the presence of Filipinos) in the area is much higher than the others,” he added. – Rappler.com

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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.