Filipina mom flees Gaza with 7 children, hopes to reunite with Palestinian husband

By Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Timesby Angel Tesorero

Marlene and her seven children successfully evacuated war-torn Gaza last November and are back in her home country. Like other evacuees, they were given $1,400 in cash aid by the Philippine government and were housed in a hotel for a couple of days upon arrival in her home country.

While safe from the rockets and bullets of the zionists, Marlene finds its hard to take care of her children aged  15, 13, 11, 9, 7, 5 and 3 years old alone. Her Palestinian husband Amjad is in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as an expat who wishes to bring the entire family to join him soonest.

Money running out

When the Philippine government’s temporary shelter to Gaza evacuees ended, Marlene was assisted by the Philippine-Palestine Friendship Association (PPFA) to look for accommodations elsewhere. They are renting a room in Cavite Province and the aid money they received is already running out.

“Worse, the children are still traumatized by the war,” added Marlene, noting, “Even the sound of the metallic electric fan brought my young sons to tears at night because it sounded like drones. My second child also wakes up in the middle of the night and cries. They are afraid of fireworks and the sound of airplanes.”

The children and their mom were living with Marlene’s in-laws in Deir Al Balah (a city in central Gaza Strip) when Israel escalated its attacks. Escaping heavy bombardment, they hurriedly left the house with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, mismatched slippers, and a bag containing their passports.

Emergency kit

“The bag was our emergency kit – I had prepared it a long time ago because, in the past two years, I have experienced four intermittent conflicts and airstrikes, and I was told by neighbors to put all our passports in one bag and run whenever we hear a warning siren,” she added.

No one died in the shelling, but Marlene was hit by a shrapnel near her abdomen. Marlene and the kids sought refuge in Rafah, southern Gaza, on October 15. The in-laws, aged 75 and 73, decided to stay behind.

The situation in Rafah was no different and after two weeks, they moved back to Deir Al Balah, only to experience another airstrike. Marlene and the kids were again lucky and escaped alive. They then moved back to Rafah until the border with Egypt was opened and the first batch of refugees were evacuated.

Marlene and her seven children arrived in the Philippines on November 10 last year. Her in-laws decided to remain in Deir Al Balah because even the 20-km journey to Rafah was too much for them.

Marlene shared: “My in-laws said they were ready to face any fate that befell them. When our house was bombed for the third time, my 73-year-old mother-in-law just lay down on the floor in fear. She could not run, her body was trembling. She laid down and prayed. Thankfully, my father-in-law arrived and dragged her safely out of the house. The five-floor building was leveled to the ground with only one room remaining, where the two of them are now staying.”

Schooling disrupted

The schooling of the six younger children was entirely disrupted by the punitive war, that has so far claimed more than 22,000 lives and displaced 90 per cent of the Palestinian population.

Marlene and Amjad’s children, except the eldest, were born in the UAE, and have studied in Ajman’s Al Hikmah School (except for the 5-year-old and 3-year-old, who have yet to enter school). The family lived in Sharjah until 2020, when they visited Gaza and got stranded there because of the pandemic. Their UAE residence visas lapsed and only Amjad was able to return after finding work in the country in 2021. Since the kids can only speak Arabic and English, they cannot attend a Philippine school.

However, it was not all bad news for Marlene. Her eldest daughter, who is a very bright student, bagged a scholarship at a university in Switzerland, where she will continue her senior high school education until college.

Return to homeland

“But living in Gaza turned out good for my family, because it was there that my children truly found a home,” Marlene said poignantly, adding: “They felt they belonged, they were happy living with their cousins, they went to school and made new friends. They were happy. Until the war happened.”

Amjad is now working on bringing his entire family to the UAE. He said he sought assistance from charity organizations and school authorities to help send his children to school.

He is also praying that one day the family will be able to return to their homeland. #

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This report was original to the Khaleej Times where the author is a senior deputy editor.

Higaonons evacuate from military occupation of community

A hundred and fifty-eight Higaonons have again been driven away from their homes by the military in Sitio Camansi, Barangay Banglay, Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental, Lumad organization Katungod said.

Thirty-five Higaonon families are now encamped at Lagonglong town center after soldiers of the 58th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army occupied their homes and community, the group said.

Young Higaonon evacuees at Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental. (Katungod photo)

The military has reportedly repeatedly subjected the community to threats, harassment and intimidation, accusing the Higaonons of being  members or supporters of the New People’s


Led by their datu Reynaldo Ayuma, the evacuees were forced to leave their homes on May 26 and walked on foot for days, Katungod in an alert said.

It was the community’s sixth forced evacuation due to military harassments since 2015, Katungod said.

On May 28, trucks from the municipal government of Lagonglong tried to fetch the evacuees but were turned back by the soldiers at a checkpoint in Sitio Ara-ay in Kibanban village.

The next day, Katungod sent vehicles but the soldiers again tried to prevent the victims from proceeding with their evacuation.

The Lumad reportedly told the soldiers that unless they are left alone and the soldiers vacate the homes they occupied, they will proceed with the evacuation.

When the Higaonons arrived at Lagonglong town proper, they were prevented from using the municipal gym as evacuation center as the venue is being prepared for the town fiesta on June 24.

The evacuees have encamped in a covered basketball court in another part of town, Katungod said.

“The Higaonons believe that the intensified military operations aim to drive them away from their ancestral lands which covers parts of Mt. Balatukan and facilitate the entry of large-scale mining companies and agribusiness plantations,” Katungod added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Philippine Army forces evacuation of peasants in Quirino Province

Civilians are suffering the negative impacts of the Duterte administration’s Oplan Kapayapaan and all-out war against the New People’s Army (NPA), a local farmer’ organization said.

Danggayan Dagiti Mannalon ti Cagayan Valley (Danggayan) reported 50 residents of rural communities in Maddela, Quirino have been harrassed and forced to evacuate due to military operations of the 86th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) last February 13.

The operations were allegedly carried out by to 86th IBPA to hunt down New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas in the area.

The group said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) purposely spread false information about combat breaking out in the nearby town of San Agustin, Isabela to justify their entry into the barrios of San Martin, Villa Gracia and Villa Ylanan.

According to reports, the soldiers descended on the communities on board two helicopters and several trucks and forced the people to evacuate.

Barangay San Martin chairperson Paulino Lunag led the people to the town center for temporary shelter, the report said.

Maddela Mayor Renato Ylanan also reportedly expressed dismay at the situation of the evacuees.

The residents are forced out of their homes and away from their crops and livelihood, the group said.

Danggayan condemned the 86th IBPA, saying that the intrusive military operation and subsequent forced evacuation were direct violations of the residents’ human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

Lorena Santos of the human rights group Karapatan said that the recent attacks on different communities were disturbing, as the government’s all-out war hurts civilians the most.

“Civilians bear the brunt of the government’s all-out war,” she said.

“The AFP’s attacks against the people have continued and intensified since President Rodrigo Duterte suspended its peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” Santos added.

Danggayan called for an end to military operations in the communities and for the resumption of the peace negotiations to effectively end the armed conflict.

“The government must end its all-out war and Oplan Kapayapaan. It has been proven that fascism will not stop people from taking up arms and revolting,” Santos added. (Abril Layad B. Ayroso)