Friday, January 23, 2009

Tales from Gaza at the Philippine National Red Cross

The war in Gaza became very real to me yesterday.

I didn't expect it but everything started yesterday morning when I got several text messages from my colleagues yesterday morning asking me to be at the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) at 11:30 AM to help prepare press releases for an event that was supposed to take place at 2:00 PM.

I was totally clueless as to what the Press Releases would be about and I guessed that I'd have enough time to figure everything out when I got to the PNRC. After about two years of working with my current boss at the Senate, I had gotten used to figuring things out on the go and writing press releases almost as fast as he talks (almost).

When I got to the Chairman's office at the PNRC, the first person I talked with was Aida Beltejar of the PNRC's Social Services department.

It was from her that I learned that the PNRC was playing host to 14 out of the 34 Filipino-Palistinians who arrived the other night. They had fled to Egypt through the Rafah border.

After our brief conversation, I was able to get a copy of my boss' briefing papers which listed the names and ages of the repatriates plus a little demographic summary.

The most recent batch of repatriates from Gaza consisted of six families. This brought to 50 the total number of repatriates from Gaza, the first batch arrived on January 9 and consisted of 16 people. (Another 20 people were supposed to arrive last night.)

24 of the 34 people in the second batch of repatriates from Gaza were minors, 4 of them children aged between 0 and 3 years old.

In a press conference, the repatriates took turns telling the story of how they got out of Gaza.

Saleh Soliman Wady, a Palestinian doctor who married Filipina Aisha Manlalangit-Wady 21 years ago and is a father of 5 children aged 3 to 15, told about how schools and even hospitals were being bombed by the Israelis.

Aisha Wady told about how food was scare as supplies weren't getting through the border. She even made reference to the kinds of weapons the Israelis were using against Gaza, pointing out that phosphorous bombs were being used. Phosphorous bombs, according to her, look like fireworks when they burst and spread searing smoke that burns up human flesh on contact. She said that a teenager had to have his or her legs cut off after the smoke from the phosphorous bomb cooked her legs through.

Three year old Mohammed Saleh Wady, the youngest in the Wady family, drew a picture of Gaza which made for his own account of what he experienced.

Another child who wasn't there during the press conference, four year old Jeanine P. Abu Shawesh arrived in the Philippine quite traumatized after having seen her neighbors vaporized when a bomb hit them.

There are several dozens more Filipino families in Gaza and the Philippine Embassies in the counties surround the Gaza strip are working like hard to get them out with help from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Perhaps, this is one thing that the kidnappers of the three ICRC workers in Sulu should keep in mind. The ICRC helps people in all sorts of dangerous situations. What if one of their own family members is trapped in a warzone or is a victim of some kind of natural disaster and there are no Red Cross workers to help out? I hope it moves their conscience a bit when they think that Red Cross workers and volunteers put themselves at risk to help people in danger everyday.

One thing that struck me was the account from Aisha that when they were about to cross the border of Egypt, the Israelis stopped her husband from crossing over because he was Palestinian. Aisha and her children were frantic, they didn't want to leave the head of their family in Gaza where he may just become a victim of the deadly violence being wrought on civilians there.

Aisha pleaded desperately with the border guards to allow her to take her husband with her and it was through the intervention of the Philippine Embassy that Aisha's husband was allowed to cross into Egypt.

The Philippine Embassy staff that took them under their care found a way to issue Aisha's husband a Philippine Passport on the spot, saying that it was allowed under such circumstances in order to keep families together.

That really won points with me.

Philippine National Red Cross Chairman, Senator Richard Gordon said that in order for Aisha's husband to stay in the Philippines indefinitely, he'd have to apply for citizenship -- which will take time -- or gain citizenship by legislation. On the second option, Gordon immediately instructed his staff to see into granting Aisha's husband Filipino citizenship through legislation.

Perhaps Gordon couldn't have said it better when he remarked that Filipina wives are very loyal to their families and will never leave a single member of her family in a dangerous situation. She will do everything to keep her family together.

That really choked me with tears.

The Senator has a bleeding heart for families in trouble, I cannot count the number of times that he personally took matters into his own hands just to help people out. And you know what? It is not a put on or a make believe moment for a TV commercial.

In the moments after the press con ended, Gordon took time to be with 3 year old Mohammed. The kid, like my own, was at the height of being precocious (makulit) and was more than ready to horse around with Gordon.

There is no denying that the Philippines is a poor country when you look at the number of people who have to eke out a living. But, if you look at our willingness to help other people out (even at the expense of risking our own lives)... if you look at our compassion and our ability to care, WE ARE THE RICHEST PEOPLE ON EARTH.

1 comment:

gener said...

it is only recently that i stumbled upon your blog and i find it very enlightening. I am Gener Morada, i am a member of the computer professionals union ( part of our advocacy under our FOSS@school program is introducing FOSS in the different schools and universities around the country for free.

I am also the country representative of or the Global Hosted Operating System, a start up company in Israel that is offering a web based desktop for free by merely registering at our website ( is an example on how technology could be used to attain world peace for it is a product of Isreaeli and Palestinian collaboration ( , )

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