SIMI Salpeter is considered an institution by the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Salpeter and his late wife, Montserrate “Monty” Sison of Pangasinan, had played host to several generations of Filipino trainees who had studied in Israel since the 70s.

In a private capacity, Salpeter had also successfully mediated problems between Filipino workers and their Israeli employers. His house often served as temporary home of distressed workers.

Also present during the dinner were officials of the Federation of

Filipino Communities in Israel, or FFCI, which is currently headed by Ruel Bautista.

A large majority of Filipinos is concentrated in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. The rest are in Beersheva, Netanya, Rehovot and Rishon LeZion. About a hundred are married to Palestinians and stay either in Gaza or West Bank.

Most of the 31,000 Filipinos in Israel work as caregivers. A few dozens work in hotels and restaurants. Susan Macana Habangue of Cagayan de Oro City, whom I met in Naharriya, married her Bulgarian-Israeli boss and now manages their employment agency.

The FFCI has provided a strong social support group for their compatriots thru sports and cultural activities. FFCI has also been instrumental in sending assistance to the Philippines through their classroom donation project as well as assistance to calamity victims.

I gratefully acknowledged to the group that in 2009 Filipinos around the world remitted $17 billion. This has greatly contributed to the economy’s resiliency.

Also among the dinner guests were martial arts expert Jon Escudero, who has been actively promoting arnis in Israel as well as in Europe.

We likewise met Major General Natalio Ecarma III, Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). The UN Peacekeeping Force maintains the ceasefire between Israeli and Syrian forces in Golan Heights. General Ecarma was accompanied by the Philippine Battalion commanding officer, Colonel Alexis Gopico.

We told General Ecarma that, just a few days before, we had met a big group of Filipino peacekeepers at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem who were queuing to enter what is generally acknowledged as the cave where Christ was buried. There were also a dozen Filipino seamen, on shore leave, who were in the shrine.

The UNDOF is composed of about a thousand troops provided by Austria, Canada, India, Japan, the Philippines, and Croatia. Of this, about 300 troops are contributed by the Philippines.

We have at least 1,062 Filipino peacekeepers serving not only in the Golan Heights but also in Afghanistan, Cote d’ Ivoire, Darfur, Haiti, Kashmir, Liberia, Sudan and Timor-Leste. This makes the Philippines the world’s 24th largest UN peacekeeper-contributing country.

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