IF there is an award for public diplomacy this year, I will have to nominate Ambassador Ilan Fluss of Israel to receive the gold medal. Since the October 7 Hamas attacks, you can see him on television, hear his voice over the radio, and read his name all over the newspapers and online publications.
During Fluss’ courtesy call with CNN Philippines’ executives and newsroom people, one detail caught my attention. Commiserating with the relatives of the four overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who were victims of the attacks, he declared that since they were “legal workers, they are entitled to insurance and other benefits.”
I inquired how much.
According to the ambassador, the surviving spouse gets $2,000 (around P110,000) per month in perpetuity, or as long as the spouse lives. Also, the OFW’s parents, if both or either one is still alive, will also receive the same amount.
“I will now work [there]!” I quipped, which drew laughter from the network’s bigwigs.
For disclosure, I have a financial-advisory business with one of the major insurance companies; that is why this topic piqued me. Most of my clients are OFWs, and I have encountered those working in Israel who inquired to be insured.
But Israel is considered a high-risk country, so either no insurance firm would be willing to cover OFWs in Israel, or their premiums would be rated higher than the ordinary insured. So, I know this is really a big amount for insurance coverage.
“That’s why very few want to leave Israel,” Fluss shared.
Social security for victims
THIS weekend, a Filipino caregiver survived a 49-day ordeal as a Hamas hostage. Gelienor “Jimmy” Pacheco was taken to the hospital for medical screening and was even personally visited by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen of Israel.
Thankfully, Pacheco is safe and was cleared by the hospital, and might be home for Christmas. But he would probably endure the trauma of experiencing that scary period of being taken by armed Hamas militia, hearing the bombings, and seeing dead people as they were whisked away from one area to another.
For surviving that horrifying ordeal, the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv said Pacheco will receive very generous “lifetime” social services benefits, apart from regular stipends from Israel, just like any citizen, and all families who perished on that fateful day of October 7.
According to the United Nations Office of Counterterrorism, victims of terror in Israel are also entitled to full reimbursement of expenses for hospitalization and treatment, nursing, medical rehabilitation, medications, and medical aid instruments. In exceptional cases, they and their families are sent abroad for medical treatment.
Additionally, victims are entitled by law to a lengthy list of benefits and grants, such as, inter alia, assistance in housing.
Fluss emphasized that, unlike in other countries where migrant workers were accorded lesser benefits, there is no discrimination on Israel’s citizens and foreign nationals. Again, he pointed out that the insurance and social-services grants are only applicable to legal workers.
Despite bombings, Pinoys stay
THERE are 30,000 Filipino caregivers working in Israel. Probably, there are more who are undocumented.
Before the pandemic, the number of Filipinos in the Holy Land was higher than the said figure, as there were thousands who were able to work there without passing through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration or POEA.
Filipinos do not need visas to visit Israel as tourists (one of the benefits extended to us when the Philippines voted for Israel’s right to self-determination before the United Nations in 1950s). So, they extended their stay and worked as caregivers.
There were also the same who ended their contract, had children, and were given a reprieve to stay. In 2022, many illegal workers, including Filipinos, were offered $5,000 (or P275,000) to avail of the amnesty program and leave Israel.
Filipinos who have worked there for several years may have been accustomed to hearing sirens, but since Israel waged war against Hamas after the October 7 strife, the missile attacks, and their trips to bomb shelters have become more frequent.
Nonetheless, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the alert in Israel for Filipinos is still at Level 2, or the situation is still continuously being monitored. There may be more than 100 Filipinos who have volunteered to go home, but there are still thousands who chose to stay behind—bombs or no bombs.