By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

REPATRIATION. Eighteen overseas Filipino workers affected by the Israel-Hamas conflict arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Oct. 20, 2023. Philippine Ambassador to Jordan Wilfredo Santos said Thursday (Feb. 15, 2024) the government is racing to repatriate 14 out of the 15 Filipinos still in Gaza. (Photo courtesy of DSWD)

MANILA – The Philippine government is racing to repatriate 14 out of the 15 Filipinos still in Gaza amid reports of Israel’s planned military operation in Rafah.

Philippine Ambassador to Jordan Wilfredo Santos said Thursday the Philippine embassies in Jordan, Egypt, and Israel are closely coordinating to extract them as soon as possible.

“I cannot give an exact date for their evacuation as the situation is very fluid. But it should be soon,” he said in a text message.

Santos said these Filipinos would still need to cross the border safely to Egypt.

The only possible point of exit from the besieged enclave is through the Rafah border crossing situated between Gaza and Egypt.

“In previous evacuations, some were not able to exit Gaza for Egypt as the roads were blocked and it was unsafe for them to do so and they were left behind or had to join subsequent evacuations,” Santos said. “The important thing is that so far, we have not received any information on casualties among Filipinos in Gaza.”

DFA Undersecretary Eduardo Jose de Vega, in a separate text message, said the 14 are currently in Rafah and had long indicated that they wanted to cross but “were undecided as to whether they really wanted to stay.”

The embassy, he said, is advising them every day to take safety measures “in light of possible attack.”

Meanwhile, Santos reported that the Filipino nun who decided to stay in Gaza amid the ongoing Hamas-Israel conflict has been unreachable since December 2023.

“We are still trying to get in touch with the Filipino nun in Gaza City. But no one is answering the landline in her church,” he said. “We will continue to reach out to her. She is the 15th Filipino remaining in Gaza.”

Santos said the church she was staying in was reportedly hit by “sniper fire” but the embassy lost contact with it due to a breakdown in communications.

“We lost contact with her around late November and early December when Israel increased its attacks on Gaza City,” he said.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier ordered the Israeli forces to prepare for the evacuation of civilians in Rafah ahead of an expected military operation in the southern Gaza city.

Australia, Canada, and New Zealand were among the latest to warn Israel not to push through with it, saying it would be “catastrophic” as Rafah serves as a refuge to about 1.5 million Palestinians and other foreign nationals. (PNA)