MANILA – Contrary to newspaper reports that the Philippines will push boat people back to the sea, Malacanang on Tuesday said the country will comply with the United Nation Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons.
”We will do what is needed and deal with concrete situations as these actually materialize, based on our position to comply with the UN convention relating to the status of refugees and stateless persons,” Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a text message to Malacanang media.
In a morning television show ‘Umagadang Kay Ganda’ of ABS-CBN, Coloma explained he did not say the Philippines will push the Rohingya boat people back to sea if they will be found undocumented.
”I did not say that,” Coloma said.
Coloma clarified that he was quoting the statement of Bureau of Immigration (BI) commissioner Fred Mison who said the Asian boat people will be examined if they will qualify as refugees or asylum seekers.
”If they are not really refugee or stateless persons, that’s would be the basis that they cannot be accepted. If they will be identified as refugees, we have procedures for that based on our commitment to the UN convention,” Coloma explained.
”Our declaration is clear. First, we will determine if they are real refugee,” he added.
In the past, Coloma said the Philippines has set up Refugee Processing Center for the thousands of boat people from Vietnam in the 1970s.
”We have shown that we’re loving and caring people because we are Christian country. We care people who are in danger and hungry. It’s our responsibility to help them based on our commitment to the UN. Historically, that’s our practice,” Coloma said.
Reports said smugglers have abandoned at sea an estimated 6,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims, many of them hungry and thirsty, from Myanmar.
Hundreds of them have reached land but many of them were floating in Southeast Asian seas in boats after Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia reportedly pushed them back to sea.