A massive evacuation of Filipinos and other foreigners from the Gaza Strip was called off yesterday upon the advice of the Red Cross due to intense fighting, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
With the Canadian mission as focal point, the foreigners were to depart the Red Cross Office in Gaza City for Erez at 1:30 p.m. (Manila time) yesterday.
Twenty-two Filipinos have indicated to the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv their intention to join the evacuation.
“As of early this morning, all Filipino nationals are unharmed,” said Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr.
“Efforts to bring the Filipino nationals out of Gaza will continue.”
On Monday, six Filipinos who agreed to leave Gaza were not able to join the Red Cross convoy taking them to the Israeli border because of the dire security situation.
The DFA said all Filipinos in Gaza were told to remain indoors upon the advice of security officials.
A Filipina mother and her four children and a nun agreed to leave Gaza on Monday for repatriation to the Philippines.
The nun will proceed to Israel.
Seventy people, including 19 Filipinas married to Palestinians and their children, a nun and a domestic helper were booked by the Philippine government for a flight to Manila.
The evacuees will be moved out of the Gaza Strip after Israeli military authorities give them clearance.
They will be escorted by the Red Cross until they reach the border of Israel, where they will be met by personnel from the Philippine Embassy. At Amman, they will board a Royal Jordan Air flight for Manila.
Retired Gen. Roy Cimatu, Special Envoy to the Middle East, was directed by President Arroyo to fly to Jordan to oversee and coordinate the repatriation of Filipinos.
On Saturday, Ambassador to Tel Aviv Petronila Garcia said Israel had not allowed the Palestinian husbands of the Filipinas to exit Gaza with their families.
At Malacañang, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said yesterday the government will go along with the United Nations’ call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
“We are together with the call of the United Nations, calling on the parties involved, in this case, Israel and the Hamas, to stop the violence that they inflict on each other so that peace will at last be attained,” he said.
Ermita said the Philippines understands very well the importance of silencing the guns based on its vast experience with violence involving rebels.
“So we take the position that there must be a stop to that violence,” he said.
Ermita said the world can only hope for Israel and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire at the very least.
“Let’s hope that with God’s help we will have (peace). We have a yearning for peace; that there would be peace in the world,” he said.
Meanwhile, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said yesterday he was irritated at Malacañang’s policy to send Filipino workers abroad when many of them are returning home because of the recession and the fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking over Catholic Church-run Radio Veritas, Fr. Edwin Corros, CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People executive secretary, said they have repeatedly criticized the government because the CBCP-ECMI and many non-government organizations do not support its programs for OFWs.
“We have given them suggestions, but these suggestions continue to fall on deaf ears,” he said.
“In this time of crisis, so far the government has not offered a tangible reaction that would be helpful to the migrants. It does not offer a long-term strategy or planning to address migration.”
Corros said that he is upset by Administrative Order 247 in which President Arroyo has asked the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to go full blast in looking for other employment markets for overseas Filipino workers.
“I am upset at all of the things she is proposing in the midst of this crisis,” he said.
“They could not even extend assistance to the overseas workers who have already returned from Taiwan and those who are trapped in Gaza, now they want to implement this AO 247.
“If you will notice, in case of the fighting at the Gaza Strip, no other country has lifted a finger to do something because this is a delicate issue… But just like in the past, the government did not do anything.”
“They always depend on those good-hearted people who are there in the area and who are willing to help our fellow Filipinos. I also know that it is already dangerous to flee from the area.”
Corros said there are 121 documented and undocumented Filipinos in Gaza.
“We could only depend on God,” he said.
“We should all pray that we would be able to overcome this obstacle. I think those who are caught in the middle of the war would prefer to stay there because they know that there is no alternative (job) for them here in the Philippines… So let’s reform our government.” –- Pia Lee-Brago with Marvin Sy, Evelyn Macairan, Philippine Star