Filipino former Hamas hostage reunites with family in Manila

BenarNews staff
Filipino former Hamas hostage reunites with family in Manila Ilan Fluss, the Israeli ambassador to the Philippines (left), welcomes former Hamas hostage Gelienor “Jimmy” Pacheco (center, holding his daughter) after Pacheco arrived from Israel at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Dec. 18, 2023.
Israel Embassy handout/BenarNews

A Filipino caregiver and ex-hostage, who had been held captive for nearly seven weeks by Hamas militants in Gaza, arrived home to the Philippines on Monday to a tearful reunion with his family. 

Gelienor “Jimmy” Pacheco, 33, rushed to the embrace of his wife and three young children amid cheers from officials, who gave him a hero’s welcome at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. As the family hugged and kissed, a loudspeaker in the terminal piped in a Christmas carol in Tagalog. 

“This Christmas will be joyful because this is the first Christmas that we will spend together since I started working as an overseas Filipino worker,” he told reporters during a brief news conference at the airport after the Philippine government arranged for his homeward flight from Israel.

Pacheco and another Filipino were taken by Hamas fighters when the Palestinian militant group launched a deadly wave of attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7. He was freed on Nov. 24, at the beginning of a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The second former hostage, Noralin Babadilla, 60, was freed on Nov. 29 and remains in Israel. 

Despite assurances by the Philippine and Israeli governments to provide assistance to his family, Pacheco, who had been in Israel for five years, said he would return to the Jewish state for work when the war ends.

“Like what I told my wife, I plan to return to Israel to secure the future of my family despite what I have been through, so I can give them what they need. That’s what a parent should do,” he said. 

“And I don’t want them to experience the struggle that I faced growing up. That is why I will go back to Israel.” 

Ilan Fluss, Israel’s ambassador to the Philippines, was among those who welcomed Pacheco at the airport. 

“Jimmy was held captive by the terrorist organization Hamas, making him a victim of terror. Like any other Israeli affected by such violence, Jimmy is entitled to receive comprehensive support,” Fuss said, according to The Daily Tribune. “This includes monthly assistance from the Israeli government for his family’s needs, including special requirements, education, health care and more.”

Along with 10 Thai workers held by Hamas, Pacheco was freed Nov. 24 after 47 days in captivity in Gaza City. 

More than 100 Filipinos have been evacuated from Gaza after Israel launched attacks in retaliation for the Hamas strike in early October, according to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

Four Filipinos were killed when Hamas fighters launched the attacks after breaking through a fence that sealed Gaza off from Israel on Oct 7. As many as 1,200 Israelis were killed and more than 230 people were taken hostage in the Hamas wave of attacks. 

On the Palestinian side, the Gaza Health Ministry has estimated that nearly 20,000 people have been killed in Israeli military airstrikes and a ground invasion of the densely populated Palestinian enclave since Oct. 7, according to international media.

17 held by Houthi rebels

While the Filipinos held by Hamas have been freed, 17 Filipino seafarers have been held by Houthi rebels who seized their cargo ship, Galaxy Leader, off the coast of Yemen on Nov. 19.  

About 25 crew members from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Mexico and Romania were reported to be on the ship. The hostage-taking has been described as a sympathy attack to show solidarity with Hamas. Hamas and the Houthis are both backed by Iran.

The Bahamas-flagged car carrier is chartered by Japan’s Nippon Yusen and is owned by a firm registered under Isle of Man-headquartered Ray Car Carriers, a unit of Tel Aviv-incorporated Ray Shipping.

About 10 million Filipinos work overseas as professionals, maids, laborers and seafarers, according to official estimates by migrant groups as well as the government. Their remittances have propped up the economy, but many endure dangerous conditions.  

Jeoffrey Maitem in Davao City, Philippines, contributed to this report. 


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