Philippines suspends migrant worker deployment to Israel amid conflict

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 20 2021 07:49 AM | Updated as of May 20 2021 09:56 PM

Philippines suspends migrant worker deployment to Israel amid conflict 1
Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon May 19, 2021. Amir Cohen, Reuters

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - The Philippines will suspend the deployment of its migrant workers to Israel, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Thursday.

The labor department will continue to process job applications, including the documents of 400 Filipino caregivers set to leave for Israel, but it will not deploy them, Bello said.

"Tama po yan, simula ngayon 'di muna. Makikipagconsult na rin ako kay (Foreign Affairs) Secretary (Teodoro) Locsin tungkol sa alert level doon kasi nakikita naman natin putukan dito, putukan dun, mahirap pag nagdeploy tayo, malaki ang pananagutan ko po," he told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.

(That's right, as of now we won't be deploying workers. I will also consult Secretary Locsin on the alert level raised there because as we can see there's bombing everywhere, if we deploy, it would be difficult, it would be my responsibility.)

"Hanggat 'di natin natitiyak ang kanilang kaligtasan. 'Pag wala nang bombahan at sinabi ng DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) okay na," he said when asked when the Philippines will lift the suspension.

(Until we can ensure their safety. When there's no more bombing and the DFA said it's okay.)

Bello, in a later statement, clarified that the agency was not prohibiting the deployment of workers but "merely suspending their actual departure while the tension is still high."

"Ang pakiusap ko pa sa ating mga paalis na caregivers at health care workers ay ipagpaliban ng ilang araw ang kanilang biyahe upang hindi sila mapahamak," he said.

(I appeal to our caregivers and healthcare workers to delay their journey for a few days so they won't be endangered.)

"Sagutin ko po sila kay Pangulong Duterte kung ano man ang mangyari sa kanila in case sila ay umalis sa kabila ng mataas na tension doon sa Israel. It will just be about a few days of delay. We just want to be sure they will be safe."

(I will be accountable to President Duterte for whatever happens to them if they leave during high tensions.)

The agency has deployed its rapid response team to repatriate Filipinos who want to return home but none so far has expressed willingness, Bello added. 

Israel hosts some 30,000 OFWs, most of whom are domestic workers, according to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

"Tuloy-tuloy naman ang trabaho nila (Their work is continuous)," Bello said.

ISRAEL EMBASSY IN CLOSE CONTACT WITH DOLE

The Embassy of Israel in the Philippines said it is “in close contact” with the DOLE regarding the development.

In a statement, the embassy expressed hope that life will return to normal, as it blamed Hamas for the conflict.

It also thanked Filipino caregivers who have stayed with them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The responsibility for the latest conflict lies entirely with the terrorist organization Hamas, which fires indiscriminately more than 4000 rockets from populated areas in Gaza strip towards civilian population centers in Israel,” the statement read.

Israel expressed its commitment to ensure the safety of its citizens and foreign nationals residing there.

Israel bombarded Gaza with air strikes and Palestinian militants kept up cross-border rocket fire, with no firm sign on Wednesday of any imminent ceasefire despite international calls to end more than a week of fighting.

-- With a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News; Reuters

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