By Aman Ullah
“You save one’s soul, you save humanity”, A great Filipino
Thousands of Rohingya migrants remain stranded in the Andaman Sea, while authorities around the region refuse to take them in. The scale of the crisis is still unknown. No organization, from the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to Rohingya rights groups, knows how many boats there are. The number of migrants stranded aboard these ships, however, is estimated to be in the thousands.
Despite a plea from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, urging Southeast Asian leaders to uphold “international law” and “the obligation of rescue at sea,” Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are currently refusing to accept the “boat people” — men, women and children who remain on ships, with rapidly dwindling provisions.
However, the Philippines, despite being geographically distant from the epicenter of this growing humanitarian crisis, has offered to allow the migrant boats landing rights.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said in a statement May 18 that the Philippines has extended humanitarian assistance for “boat people” in the past, citing its establishment of a processing center for Vietnamese migrants in the 1970s. Citing the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, or which the Philippines is a signatory, Coloma said: “We shall continue to do our share in saving lives under existing and long-standing mechanisms pursuant to our commitments under the Convention.”
The UN describes this as “the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights, and the legal obligations of states.”
Coloma’s comment comes as nearly 3,000 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand over the past week, with thousands more believed to be drifting on boats without food or water.
At the same time, Coloma emphasized that the Philippines “has accorded humane treatment to ‘boat people’ and even established a refugee processing center in Morong, Bataan.”
Philippines, being the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to establish a procedure to protect both refugees and stateless people, has shown again their genuine humanitarian spirit. We, all the Roningya peoples both at home and aboard, are very much grateful to the Government of Philippines. We are also grateful to all the Filipinos.
What the Filipinos comment about it?
• This makes me prouder to be a Filipino than any boxing win, talent show finals, or economic data. Let’s be true to who we are as Filipinos. We are not a wealthy nation and have little to spare. We are not their immediate neighbours. Most of us do not share the same religion or ethnicity. And none of these matter. What matters is they need our help. And help we will. We act because we must. We neither lead nor follow because we alone act. When we expect no support or payment in return, I know we are doing the right thing. I want to go further and ask the Philippine government not to demand travel documents. These are stateless people denied citizenship by their own country. Using the Interpol database and biometrics is sufficient enough precaution. Let’s not make their lives any harder. . (Romano Jorge)
• The very core of this issue is the humanitarian effort of the Philippines to help these unwanted human beings. Why? Because it is the most humane thing to do. It is the right thing to do. Set aside those political issues and let the natural human kindness lead the way. After reassuring their state of wellbeing then we can talk about politics. (Jonnny)
• The world communities are all so good to us, Filipinos. It is now time to give back. (Chito Valderrama)
• How could they obtain travel documents when they are fleeing for their lives? For the sake of humanity, they should be helped. ( Tecla Perez)
• I think I’m in love now with Sec. Leila de Lima. Hehehe. She reminds me of Manuel L. Quezon and Oskar Schindler. (Yamz Tumacas)
• I confess, we do this for ourselves. Because do not want to be that kind of nation that willfully lets people die at sea. Because, we do not want future generations to carry such a stain upon our history. Because if we did nothing when we could, we would be unforgivable. (Romano Jorge)
• The Philippines has shown, time and again, it’s “open doors” policy. The European Jews (during the time of M.L. Quezon), White Russians (during the time of E. Quirino) and the Vietnamese can attest to that.(observer)
• Let our nation be hospitable and generous to be a blessing to desperate people!( davidslim53)
• We may not have much but we have the heart of compassion and our infectious sense of humor. We have done this before and we can surely do it again by God’s grace. All the “pinoy tv/radio dramas” have trained us to share what little we have.( Fredda Perez)
• Helping people who are in need is all our responsibility. We don’t have to be bother weather they are a Muslim , or undocumented Malay¬sia ,Thailand and Indonesia especially Bangladesh and Myanmar you’re governance are a disgrace to humanity , discrimination against these people does not express the peace we want to achieve as a United Nation.(Reply Leo Manata)
• @Romano Jorge, Your statement is correct. BOXING is useless compared to humanitarian issues being experienced by t hese poor suffering human being at the moment. Let’s act…Get the help of other ASEAN countries or UN to provide fund, in return, we will provide an islet in Spratley for these poor people. We can do it. We have brilliant leadership we can provide to make things happen for them.( Roger Mendaros)
• I like the comments written here compared to facebook. It shows how intelligent and kind these citizens are. On my part I am also in favor of helping them for God’s sake. (Denish Ilog)
• As an Australian citizen it is a joy to me see the all the supportive comments below concerning the Philippines Government`s in principle support for the commitment to the Refugee Convention and other human rights related conventions which it has ratified. It is the opposite from the totally immoral position of Australian governments in recent years on this topic and I have to admit blind support from many of the populace here for Abbott and his supporters like Scott Morrison. It makes me proud to have in-laws in the Philippines.( Darrylk Grigg)
• Question: Will the government shoulder all the cost of their living… or the UN will give financial aid? Thanks!( Filipino Economist)
• I think people should be cautious about this and look at possible alternatives. It’s wonderful that our focus is to help those who are in need and I am proud that we prioritize humanitarian efforts. But we should also assess the possible impact–economically and socially. I want everyone to look deeper into the story of the Rohingyas. My only hope is that we prioritize our own people because in all honesty, how can we support Rohingya refugees when we can’t even support our poor and our ever-growing population? Is accepting them an absolute right thing to do, or is it better to give them aid and pressuring Myanmar to grant citizenship to these people? I am presenting questions just to keep us thinking. (Carlo)
• Reminds me when the Philippines provided shelter to the Jewish refugees during the holocaust. Good to know we are being humane. (Jen Pagay)
• How can you demand a travel documents from people who were persecuted by their own country? These people are refugees, driven by their own government who do not recognize them, Asking travel documents from people who escape from their country’s cruelty is stupidity. (Ernie Rivera)
• There is nothing wrong if the Philippines would prefer to help these “boat people”. HOWEVER, our government should also create/take PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES especially when it comes to HEALTH/MEDICAL screening to protect us Filipinos from unwanted outbreak of any kind. (Kurinera Diaries)
• A great filipino once said, over poker game, “that’s the right thing to do”…”you save one’s soul, you save humanity”, said the other one of her belief. For that, the bell rings big time to me. is it impossible to do? The answer is big no!(Amel Amador)
• Its good news, I’m happy we’re doing this. (Aju Enrique)
• Humanitarian organizations and charitable institutions, now is the time to act. Regardless of one’s political stance, government needs our help feeding and sheltering these people. (Romano Jorge)
• This is nice and all but if we’re going to accept these refugees we must have an excess in our pockets. We would need to spend money to them, money that is being eaten away by traps politicians that don’t even care about its own citizens. I would like these politicians and oligarchs to give away some of their land, some of their money and some of their time in settling these people here. I’m sorry, I am merely being realistic, and this is not pessimism. This is the reality of our situation. Our foreign affairs secretary is not wrong on it and it is not being heartless. I just find it completely enraging that Malaysia and Indonesia just do not give a **** to their Muslim brethren. (Rudolph Angelo Candelario)
• Simple, because (1) we are a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention Law. Because (2) , like the Rohingya’s, we have thousands of undocumented Filipinos overseas and those working in conflict areas whose protection might based on the goodwill of receiving states. Because (3) that is the human thing to do… Who knows, one of these days, you’ll be the one needing protection by other states…(Makatalakbayan)