Legislators urged to pass a bill protecting refugees, stateless persons, and asylum seekers in the PH
In celebration of the first anniversary of Executive Order No. 163 (EO No. 163), the Department of Justice (DOJ), through the Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit (RSPPU), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Philippines urged legislators in the House of Representatives and the Senate, during the Usapang Human Development online talk show of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), to pass a bill which will protect and uphold the rights and welfare of refugees, stateless applicants, stateless persons, asylum seekers, and people at risk of being stateless.
On 28th February 2022, former president Rodrigo Duterte signed EO No. 163 to ensure the full protection of refugees, stateless persons, and asylum seekers’ rights to liberty, security, education, employment, and freedom of movement, among others. The Executive Order institutionalizes access to protection services for refugees, stateless persons and asylum seekers by directing relevant agencies to allocate funding to ensure their inclusion in policies, plans, and programs.
“The Philippines is and has become a regional and global lead when it comes to upholding the rights of refugees and stateless people. It also ensures that it has the mechanisms to address the issue of statelessness in the country,” said UNHCR Philippines Head of National Office Atty. Maria Ermina Valdeavilla-Gallardo, as she pointed out that EO No. 163 complements the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, the 1954 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Person, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, of which the Philippines is a State Party to.
“Bago pa tayo naging partido dito sa mga nabanggit na mga treaties, ang Pilipinas ay mayroon talagang tradisyon na tumanggap ng mga tao na nangangailangan ng masisilungan . . . Sa pamamagitan nitong EO 163 … muling naipakita ng Pilipinas na tayo ay handa at ginagampanan natin ang tungkulin natin hindi lamang dahil mayroong mga treaties kundi bilang isang nasyon at bilang mga taong tumutulong sa mga nangangailangan,” stated DOJ Chief State Counsel George Ortha II.
(“Even before we became a state party to the said treaties, the Philippines already has a tradition of accepting people who need refuge . . . Through the EO 163 . . . the Philippines has again proved that we are ready and we are doing our obligations not only as a state party to the treaties but as a nation that extends help to those in need,” stated DOJ Chief State Counsel George Ortha II.)
“Itong Executive Order 163 ay nagbigay ng basehan sa mga ahensya ng gobyerno, in fact, iniutos ng ating [dating] pangulo na maglaan ang mga ahensya ng gobyerno ng pondo … para matulungan ang mga refugees at stateless persons,” Ortha added.
(“This Executive Order 163 has provided a basis for government agencies, in fact, the [former] president ordered that government agencies must allocate funds to help refugees and stateless persons,” stated DOJ Chief State Counsel George Ortha II.)
PLCPD Executive Director Romeo Dongeto elaborated on the contents of a proposed bill which will provide comprehensive protection for refugees, stateless persons, asylum seekers and populations at risk of statelessness.
“Ang proposed bill ay nagkukulumpon at nagpapatibay sa mga pamamaraan at mekanismo para sa pagtukoy ng katayuan ng mga refugees at stateless persons. Bubuuin nito ang isang ahensiyang tunay na nakatutok sa kanilang kalagayan at magpapalawak ng proteksyon at tulong mula sa pamahalaan,” Executive Director Romeo Dongeto of PLCPD explained.
(“The proposed bill is consolidating and strengthening the processes and mechanisms for the identification of status of refugees and stateless persons. It will establish an agency that will truly focus on the situation of forcibly displaced people and expand the protection and help that they receive from the government,” Executive Director Romeo Dongeto of PLCPD explained.)
“May tatlong mahahalagang bahagi ang proposed bill. Una, it institutionalizes the refugee and stateless status determination procedure . . . Ikalawa, inilalatatag ng proposed bill ang mga karapatan ng mga refugees at stateless persons. Ikatlo, pinapalawak nito ang DOJ Refugee and Stateless Person Protection Unit tungo sa nagsasariling opisina na may nakalaang pondo mula sa national government at mayroong dedicated personnel with expertise on refugee protection and statelessness,” Dongeto further said.
(“The proposed bill has three important parts. First, it institutionalizes the refugee and stateless status determination procedure . . . Second, the proposed bill lays down the rights of the refugees and stateless persons. Third, it expands the DOJ Refugee and Stateless Person Protection Unit into an independent office that has its own allocated funding from the national government and has its own dedicated personnel with expertise on refugee protection and statelessness,” Dongeto further said.)
“It’s a commitment. The Philippines made pledges in the 2019 Global Refugee Forum [and High-Level Segment on Statelessness]. If these bills are passed, it’s a testimony that we walk our talk that the Philippines is providing a safe haven to those who are unable to find safety in other parts of the globe and that the Philippines continues its history of humanitarian tradition. This is an opportunity for the current legislature to show that it is able and willing to leave a legacy that would meet the demand of the refugees, stateless, and forcibly displaced people,” Atty. Gallardo of UNHCR added.
The episode also featured a refugee in the Philippines named “Princess”.
“We chose not to go back because our country was not safe. We had nowhere to go. We went to the DOJ to seek asylum and they accepted us,” Princess shared.
Princess shared that she is grateful to the DOJ for helping her to have access to her right to education as she is now studying in one of the colleges in the country. However, Princess also shared that many forcibly displaced persons in the Philippines still encounter problems with lack of identification and homelessness. She also shared her hope for more Filipinos to be aware and educated about refugees, stateless persons, stateless applicants, asylum seekers, and populations at risk of statelessness.
“Some Filipinos don’t understand the status of refugees and asylum seekers. When they see foreigners, they think they came because they have a lot of money. Some of them don’t know we ran out of our country to be safe. Refugees did not come here for business, they came here for a [safe] place to stay,” Princess added.
“My dream is to grow with my friends and classmates . . . feeling like this is my home, this is my country, and I can find a job like my classmates and friends, and companies can accept me. This is my dream,” Princess concluded.
Usapang Human Development is an online talk show series hosted by PLCPD to discuss important policy issues that require legislative action. For its 50th episode, in time for the first anniversary of EO 163, PLCPD along with UNHCR Philippines, DOJ, and advocates, called on legislators to listen to the plight of the forcibly displaced, stateless people, and populations at risk of statelessness and to pass bills that will ultimately ensure their protection and allow them to live in safety and dignity.