By Alex P. Vidal
“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” — Ronald Reagan
ANOTHER high-ranking government official who thinks Filipinos don’t know how to analyze is Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega, who announced October 20 that the “Egyptian government has promised to give priority to evacuating Filipinos once the Rafah border crossing opens.”
Really? There were dozens of nationalities from the Arab peninsula and even the United States of America and Europe who couldn’t even be accommodated due to a myriad of circumstances, according to reports, and Egypt will “prioritize” the fleeing Filipinos? Whoa.
Are we that special to Egypt, Mr. Undersecretary?
Otherwise known as Rafah Border Crossing, Rafah Crossing Point is the sole crossing point between Egypt and the Gaza Strip located on the Gaza–Egypt border and recognized by the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty.
Speaking over Radyo 630, De Vega said, “Kinausap ko ang ambassador ng Egypt kahapon at sinabi ng kanilang pamahalaan na bibigyan ng priority ang mga Pilipinong lulusot. Pangako niya ‘yan na bibigyan tayo ng priority sa border.”
(I spoke with the Egyptian ambassador yesterday and their government said that they will give priority to Filipinos who will pass through. That’s his promise to give us priority at the border.)
Did he mean Filipinos would be “allowed to cross” instead of “given the priority” just in case (because there was no certainty yet as of this writing) the border opens on October 20 as reportedly scheduled?
Even in semantics, DFA officials like De Vega must not confuse the Filipinos. He must be clear and direct to the point; and refrain from beating around the bush since they are dealing with safe repatriation of mostly Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) trapped in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
We’re sure De Vega is aware there’s a lot of issues and problems in the Rafah border that its opening requires cooperation from both Egypt and Israel, which each control a gate on their side, as well as Hamas, which must provide assurances that the group will not interfere.
And authorities have been hesitant to open the border because of the major issues like the one reported earlier by Said Sadek, peace studies teacher at the Egypt-Japan University, who has said Egypt “does not want to see large numbers of Palestinians in the Sinai, because it could cause instability in a key tourist hotspot, if they began firing at Israel from Egyptian soil.”
Sadek also said that a large Palestinian presence in Egypt “could cause turmoil between Egyptians who support peace with Israel and those who would like to fight the Jewish state.”
De Vega should have been aware that World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said at the news conference recently the United Nations agency also has supplies sufficient to care for 2,000 patients waiting on the Egyptian side of the border, with 80,000 additional pounds of supplies set to arrive over the next week.
The WHO was reportedly initially being allowed five truckloads of supplies, and they’re ready to go as soon as the border opens. But the organization needs assurances that those delivering them will be allowed to do so safely.
Given the aforementioned situations, why would Egypt “prioritize” the small number of Filipinos when they could even hardly facilitate the crossing of WHO supplies as reported?
Several Israeli airstrikes have reportedly hit the area in the past few days, killing at least 49 people at the crossing and in the nearby town of Khan Younis on October 17, according to Gaza’s interior ministry.
So far, the Israel-Hamas war has left at least 2,800 people in Gaza dead and 10,000 injured. In Israel, 1,400 people have died and 3,900 have been wounded.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two daily newspapers in Iloilo.—Ed)