By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

PHONE CALL. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. speaks with the relatives of the two Filipinos killed in Israel during a phone call on Wednesday (Oct. 11, 2023). Marcos personally extended his condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims and pledged to provide them with full government assistance. (Photo from President Marcos’ official Facebook page)

MANILA — President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has pledged to provide full government assistance to the families of the two Filipinos killed amid the armed conflict between Israeli forces and the Hamas Islamist group.

Marcos made the commitment during separate phone calls with the families of the victims on Wednesday night.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Marcos admitted that it was heartbreaking to talk to the grieving relatives about the killing of the two Filipinos in Israel.

“Last (Wednesday) night, I made two of the most difficult phone calls I’ve had to make as President. The nation is one in grieving with the families of the Filipinos who were killed in the attacks on Israel,” he said.

“We will provide the utmost support to the families they were taken from. This tragedy will not deter our spirit. We will continue to stand for peace,” Marcos added.

Marcos spoke to the relatives of the victims after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed that two Filipinos were killed during the Saturday rampage of Hamas militants in Southern Israel bordering Gaza.

Based on the information released by the DFA, the victims were a 36-year-old female from Pangasinan who had been working in Israel for six years, and a 42-year-old male from Pampanga.

The DFA refused to divulge the identities of the victims, “in line with the families’ request for privacy at this very difficult time.”

Meanwhile, Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Secretary Cheloy Garafil said Marcos had advised the victims’ families to have a constant communication with the Philippine embassy in Tel Aviv for updates.

“President Marcos has already instructed Philippine Ambassador to Israel, Pedro ‘Junie’ Laylo Jr., to closely coordinate with the families of the two victims and provide them with all the necessary assistance amid these trying times,” Garafil said in a separate statement.

Repatriation efforts

Marcos said the government is exhausting all efforts to protect the welfare and well-being of Filipinos in Israel, as well as to pursue the repatriation efforts for those who want to go home.

Citing Marcos’ remarks, Garafil said Philippine officials are now working closely with their Israeli counterparts to ensure the safety of Filipinos in the war-torn country.

Marcos said the Philippine government will immediately conduct the necessary repatriation efforts for affected Filipinos in Israel once the Israeli government starts to open its “humanitarian corridors.”

“Pero, inaantay namin ‘yung permiso ng Israeli (government), dahil ‘yung Israeli ang magsasabi sa amin kung kailan puwede ng magpalipad para sunduin ang mga Pilipino. Iyon ang inaayos namin ngayon (But, we are waiting for permission from the Israeli government because they will be the ones to tell us when we can fly to pick up the Filipinos. That’s what we’re arranging now),” he said, as quoted by the PCO.

In a Palace briefing on Wednesday, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said the military is ready to conduct an evacuation operation for Filipinos affected by the Israel-Hamas conflict, in case the situation escalates.

Aguilar said the AFP would deploy C-130 and C-295 military aircraft in the event that the Philippine government needs to carry out a humanitarian mission.

Financial assistance

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) on Thursday formally extended assistance to the family of one of the two Filipino casualties in the Oct. 7 attack of Hamas militants.

DSWD Undersecretary for Operations Group Pinky Romualdez said officials and personnel of the DSWD office in Central Luzon have reached out to the family of the victim from Pampanga.

Romualdez said DSWD-Central Luzon Officer in Charge Assistant Regional Director for Operations Armont Pecina sent the department’s deep sympathy and a PHP10,000 assistance through the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS) program to the bereaved family.

She said the DSWD would also provide burial assistance and family members would be referred to projects under the DSWD’s Sustainable Livelihood Program to help them in their livelihood as the victim was the family breadwinner.

Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian earlier directed the DSWD Operations Group to locate the families of the two Filipino victims.

Romualdez said the DSWD office in the Ilocos Region was able to get in touch with the family of the other Filipino victim “but her mother was still in a state of shock and wanted her privacy.”

The Pinay nurse and her Israeli elderly patient were killed by members of the militant Hamas group during the first wave of attacks on that fatal day of Oct 7.

In a Facebook post, the Commissioner for Foreign Workers’ Labor Rights in Israel confirmed that the nurse died after staying with her patient despite the chance to flee. (With a report from Zaldy De Layola/PNA)