By Marita Moaje

OUT OF DANGER. A Department of Health personnel checks on an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) upon their arrival at the NAIA Terminal 3 on Thursday (May 9, 2024). A total of 60 OFWs who availed of the government’s voluntary repatriation program also received various forms of assistance. (Photo courtesy of DMW)

MANILA – A total of 60 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Israel who availed of the Philippine government’s voluntary repatriation program arrived via an Etihad Airlines flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 on Thursday afternoon.

Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Hans Leo Cacdac, who welcomed the OFWs, said this brought to 879 the total number of OFWs from Israel, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza who have returned to the Philippines since the government mounted repatriation flights amid hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas that began in October last year.

He said immediate assistance was provided to the 60 OFWs, including onsite medical and physical check-ups from the Department of Health, financial and comprehensive reintegration support worth PHP100,000 from the DMW and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, a livelihood aid worth PHP20,000 from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and skills training vouchers from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Most of the repatriates from Israel were working as caregivers and hotel workers, Cacdac added.

One of them is Teresita Dagdag who has worked in Israel as a caregiver for 19 years.

Dagdag said even before the conflict broke out last year, she had already been planning to return home to the Philippines for good.

However, when the hostilities started, she had doubts about leaving her employer, whom she said was hearing impaired.

“Ang alaga ko ay bingi. Kahit sumabog na ang bomba di niya nadidinig. So ako yung naging ear niya, eye niya, kamay at paa niya. Every time mag siren, di niya nadidinig (My patient was deaf. She did not hear the bombs exploding, so I became her eyes, ears, hands, and feet. Every time the siren went off, she could not hear it),” Dagdag said in an interview.

“So kahit gusto ko na umuwi, dahil sa pagmamahal ko sa kanya, tayo ay mga Pilipino katangian natin na kahit nasa gitna ng giyera hindi iiwan ang alaga, pinagpasa-Diyos ko na lang (So even if I already wanted to go home, [I couldn’t] because of my love for her. We Filipinos, one of our traits is we do not leave our wards even in the middle of a war, so I just prayed to God).”

She recounted that she was even told by her employer’s children to leave their mother and secure her safety, but she opted to stay with her.

Dagdag said she finally availed of the voluntary repatriation after her employer succumbed to Covid-19 in February.

Irene Pelagio, meanwhile, said she finally decided to return home because of fear.

“Itong latest, ibang-iba na. Hindi tulad dati na kapag nagsisirena o nagpapalabas ng rocket, tinatawagan ko pa nanay ko, sabi ko tingnan mo yung rocket (The latest attacks have been different, unlike in the past when I could still call my mother whenever they sounded the sirens or launched rockets),” she said.

Pelagio said they have been safe in their dome as it can withstand rockets.

“Iyong pinakahuling nag-atake ang Iran na inatake nila ang Jerusalem, doon na kami natakot. Right away, nagpa-repatriate na kami (When Iran launched an attack on Jerusalem, we were frightened. So, we immediately volunteered for repatriation),” she added. (PNA)