PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – President Benigno S. Aquino III is personally keeping an eye on the government’s monitoring and relief efforts toward ensuring the safety of Filipinos trapped in the crossfire between Israel and the Gaza strip.
In an interview with the Philippine media delegation here Monday night, President Aquino said he has been informed that while Filipinos in Gaza are scared of the ongoing situation, they have unanimously decided to remain there for the time being.
According to a report which President Aquino received from the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv, there is only one Filipino working in Gaza while the rest are married to Palestinians residing in the strife-torn strip.
The President, meanwhile, said he has been assured by the Philippine embassy that the 41,000 Filipinos who are living and working throughout Israel—most of them caregivers—will have access to bomb shelters.
President Aquino through Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma, Jr. stated that the Department of Foreign Affairs has already sent rapid response teams to assess and address the situation.
“We have sent a rapid reaction team. The only delay that happened was when they were securing visas to enter Israel, if I’m not mistaken. But I think they left today (Monday) for Israel,” the President said.
Philippine diplomatic posts in Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and other neighboring countries have also been alerted to prepare for contingencies in case these Filipinos eventually decide to leave and return home, President Aquino said.
The President noted that entering Gaza is already 'risky' and repatriating our countrymen would be extra difficult since the internal conflicts experienced in the other Middle Eastern countries have not yet been totally abated.
“Kasama na rin ako sa nagmimiron. Tiningnan ko na rin. Ang katabi ng Israel is Egypt, Syria, Jordan. E nakikita naman ninyo ang nangyayari sa Jordan at sa Syria; sa Egypt medyo nag-stabilize pa lang,” he said.
In this connection, the President said he asked Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to get in touch with Cyprus and seek possible assistance from its government in the event the repatriation of these 41,000 Filipinos becomes necessary.
“We don’t think that we will have to evacuate 41,000. But we just want to be prepared so we’ve touch-based with the Cypriot government in case we will bring our people there as temporary staging area for repatriation in case it gets worse,” the President said.
The President categorically stated, that so far, none of the Filipinos living in either Gaza or Israel agreed to be repatriated and the government still has no plans to impose a forced evacuation given some limitations that they have to observe.
“Most of the information that they keep telling me is they will all have access to bomb shelters and, therefore, they have a capacity to be safe. We’d rather bring all of the 41,000 home but they will have, ‘di ba, disrupted jobs, may right to travel, etcetera. May limits din kung kailan natin pwede i-forced evacuation,” he said. PND