SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
The House Committee on Human Rights chaired by Rep. Cheryl Deloso-Montalla (2nd District, Zambales) on Tuesday hosted at the House of Representatives the first Parliamentarians’ Forum on Refugee Awareness and Protection Mechanisms.
The event was jointly organized with the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRNN).
In her opening remarks, Deloso-Montalla said APHR and APRNN have played key roles in forging institutional linkages with the panel and some members of Philippine Congress with the ultimate goal of raising the level of awareness of legislators on the issue of refugees and the global impact of such phenomenon.
She said this is also to create and enhance mechanisms for the protection of refugees not only in the Philippines but in the international front.
Deloso-Montalla said the Philippines is just one of the two Member-States of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Nations) that have ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
“The Philippines, has to its credit not just being “primus inter pares” or “first among equals” within ASEAN on the matter of refugees awareness, but more significantly, our country has again demonstrated its willingness and commitment to share in its international responsibilities, as an active member of ASEAN and a founding Member of the United Nations,” she said.
Former President and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in her message read by Rep. Glona Labadlabad (2nd District, Zamboanga del Norte), said there is no better time than now to hold a thorough discussion of refugees’ rights and find solutions to this growing ASEAN problem.
Speaker Arroyo said several framework agreements and protocols, such as the UN conventions on refugees, ASEAN’s Human Rights Declaration, the Bali Process, and other declarations, can be the bases of ASEAN’s course of action to help the refugees.
But she said that there are some constraints: not all ASEAN-member countries have ratified the UN conventions; the inter-ASEAN agreements are legally non-binding; and the ASEAN charter provides for non-interference in the internal affairs of member-states.
The Speaker hopes that the forum can generate more ideas to urge governments to ratify the UN protocols and support the declaration with more concrete actions.
Lawyer Modesta Chungalao, deputy of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque gave a presentation on the Philippine situation on refugees.
She said the history of the Philippines when it comes to refugees has always been one of welcome.
Chungalao said that there have been 10 waves of refugees who came to the Philippines, including the handful of Rohingya refugees who managed to make it to the country for the last century alone.
These were white Russians, Jewish refugees, Chinese refugees, Spanish republicans, Vietnamese boat people, Iranian refugees, and refugees from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and also from East Timor.
Chungalao said the Philippine government has relevant policies and programs regarding the protection of refugees.
One is the emergency transit mechanism (ETM) of which the Philippines is one of only three countries that have ETM. The other two are Panama and Niger.
Chungalao explained that under the ETM, when refugees in other states are at risk of being returned to their country of origin, where they may be persecuted, the Philippines has agreed to host them temporarily in view of the emergency situation.
There is also the stateless determination procedure of which Chungalao said the Philippines is “one of the countries that have this despite the fact that we have yet to have a law specifically on the protection of refugees”.
She also said that October of last year, “we signed an inter-agency agreement on the protection of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons in the Philippines which involved 16 government agencies.”
The agreement, which streamlines the provisions of services to refugees, is led by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Chungalao also informed the panel that the Philippines recently endorsed the draft global compact on refugees during the consultations in Geneva, Switzerland last July of this year.
She explained that the Global Compact endorses the comprehensive refugee response framework which involves mechanisms for easing pressure on host countries, enhancing refugee self-reliance, arranging third country solutions and improving conditions in the country of origin so that a refugee will have the option to return.
It also includes a program of action for United Nations (UN) Member States which, Chungalao said, “hopefully will be adopted by the UN General Assembly when it opens its 73rd Session next week”.
Deloso-Montalla said the government had already exhibited a certain level of openness to the issues on refugees, migration and displacement of persons.
“Thus, I am not quite surprised that the Philippines has been regarded as one of those countries who have the best practices in terms of proving psycho-social services to the refugees, and other related modalities that characterize an over-all functioning system of refugee protection, notwithstanding the limited sources available to the government in this regard,” she said.
Among the resource speakers in the forum were Hon. Charles Santiago, incumbent member of Parliament of Malaysia and Chairperson of the APHR and Chair of APHR’s Malaysia Caucus; Hon. Kasit Piromya, former Members of the Parliament of Thailand and current Board Member of APHR and Chair of APHR’s Thailand Caucus, Lilianne Fan, an anthropoligust and expert on humanitarian responses in Asia, Evan Jones, the Interim Secretary General of APRRN, Sussi Prapakranant, programme officer of APRRN and representatives from government agencies such as the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Justice, Philippine National Police, and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). | Ma. Victoria Palomar