Manila, Philippines – Mohamed Amir woke up at around 6am to make the five-hour journey from his home in Pampanga province to the Philippines’ capital, Manila.
Once there, the 20-year-old Filipino-Palestinian on Tuesday joined hundreds of others outside the Israeli embassy to protest against Israel’s relentless attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip.
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In tears among the crowd, Amir shouted “Free Palestine!” alongside Filipinos and the assortment of nationalities gathered in solidarity.
He was thinking of his family.
It had been four days since he last heard from his father, two grandparents and seven siblings, the youngest of whom is six years old. In mid-September, his family travelled from Dubai to Gaza to visit relatives. They were due to return on October 17, 10 days after the war began when Hamas, the group running Gaza, launched a surprise attack inside Israel.
“This issue is bigger than Hamas and Israel,” a sobbing Amir told Al Jazeera. “They’re eradicating our people,” he said, referring to Israel. “They’ve caused so many deaths, so many children lost. I can’t help but wonder if my siblings are among them now.”
More than 8,300 Palestinians, including 3,457 children, have been killed in Israel’s heavy bombardment of the Gaza Strip since October 7, according to health officials. In Israel, the death toll from Hamas’s attack has topped 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities.
The protest in Metro Manila came days after the Philippines, the third-largest buyer of Israeli weapons, chose to abstain during a vote at the United Nations General Assembly on a resolution that called for an immediate humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas.
By doing so, the Philippines was the only Southeast Asian nation not to join the 120 countries that backed the non-binding resolution.
Liza Maza, secretary-general International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS), which spearheaded the protest, said Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s government’s “deafening silence on the massacre of a population in Israel-occupied Gaza is condemnable and smacks of inhumanity”.
“The Marcos government has the blood of Palestinians on its hands. It turns a blind eye to the genocide in Gaza, while continuing to buy weapons from Israel,” Maza added in her speech.
At the protest, demonstrators resisted a police blockade and an attempted dispersal. After fending off knocks from police shields, the activists ripped up Israeli flags.
Sol Iglesias, a professor at the University of the Philippines, told Al Jazeera that many Filipinos want their government “to be on the side of humanity, to protect civilians”.
“An abstention is not a positive vote for a ceasefire,” Iglesias said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs explained that while the Philippine government stood for a humanitarian response in Gaza, it also wanted to include in the resolution a condemnation of Hamas’s attack because three Filipinos were killed as a result of it.
Marcos Jr had earlier assured Israeli ambassador to the Philippines Ilan Fluss that his government stood firmly with Israel against Hamas.
At the UN Security Council meeting, Philippine ambassador Ariel Penaranda said, “We condemn the killings, terrorist attacks, and other acts of violence by Hamas that took place in Israel on October 7 2023, and in this regard acknowledge the right of Israel to self-defence.”
Iglesias, who is also a member of the Scholars for Peace group, explained that in most geopolitical conflicts, the Philippines “tends to take America’s cue”.
Both the US and Israel have military agreements with the Philippines. The US expanded its joint sites of operation in the Philippines earlier this year.
Meanwhile, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, between 2018 and 2022 the Philippine government bought $275m worth of military equipment from Israel.