Philippines vows tips, not aid, in Rohingya meeting

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines vowed to share best practices, not material aid, in a recent meeting to resolve Asia's refugee crisis involving thousands of people from Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya minority. 

"The Philippines expressed its willingness to share best practices in the processing of refugees borne out of its experiences," Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said in a media briefing Monday, June 1.

Jose referred to the Philippines' track record in sheltering refugees – from 1,500 Jews after World War II to 2,700 Vietnamese boat people after the Vietnam War in the 1970s. The Philippines even accepted 9 Rohingya refugees in 2014, the United Nations (UN) refugee agency said. 

During the regional meeting on the Rohingya crisis, the Philippines also discussed measures to ensure that migrant Filipinos "are not victims of human trafficking," unlike the Rohingya. (READ: FAST FACTS: Who are the Rohingya?)

Jose added that the Philippines "expressed its willingness to cooperate" on the refugee crisis "under regional and UN frameworks."

The regional meeting on the Rohingya was held in Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday, May 29, and was attended by 17 countries. The Philippines sent top officials from its foreign affairs and justice departments.

'The situation has changed'

There, Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed to address the "root causes" of the migrant exodus, which has left up to 2,500 refugees stranded at sea. (READ: Rohingya: The people ASEAN refuses to name

The Philippines, for its part, did not commit material aid during Friday's meeting, even as it influenced its neighbors to help the refugees. 

It also did not discuss a proposal by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to send rescue ships for the Rohingya. 

In Monday's media briefing, Jose explained that the Philippines' broad policy statement is to help refugees, based on its obligations under a 1951 UN convention. (READ: The Rohingya and the port of last resort)

Jose, however, said that when the Philippines released this policy statement around two weeks ago, "it was tempered" by other considerations. These include the need to rehabilitate areas hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013, and to consider the Philippines' huge population. 

He added: "The situation has changed. Countries are now open to accepting these refugees. So I think there's, at the moment, no need for the Philippines to accept them." – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

image