Palace denies 'heartless' stance toward boat people

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2015 03:41 PM | Updated as of May 18 2015 11:41 PM

MANILA - Malacanang said it will do its part in “saving lives” in case undocumented Asian “boat people” seek refuge in the country.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said: “The Philippines has extended humanitarian assistance to 'boat people' and had even established a processing center for Vietnamese travelers in the seventies. What was cited in the Philippine Daily Inquirer report (18 May 2015) was a mere restatement of applicable provisions of our existing laws.”

The Inquirer quoted Coloma as saying that only documented migrants will qualify as asylum seekers in the country. He said they will be denied admission if they have no travel documents.

“The Philippines, as a state party to relevant instruments, such as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, concretely manifested its solidarity with the United Nations in providing succor and relief to persons involuntarily displaced from their homelands as a consequence of political conflict. We shall continue to do our share in saving lives under existing and long-standing mechanisms pursuant to our commitments under the Convention,” Coloma said in a statement today.

He did not explain further.

Members of the Rohingya, a Burmese minority group, continue to be stranded at sea amid dwindling water and food supplies. The Rohingya had fled persecution early this year, but were turned away when they reached Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

In a separate statement, the Human Rights Watch slammed Malacanang for its "heartless" stance.

“That heartless policy choice effectively condemns to death those desperate boat people, who are already sick, starving and dying of thirst, who enter Philippines waters seeking assistance. The Philippines can and should do better for those desperate men, women and children who have taken to sea due to increasingly abusive conditions in their homeland of Myanmar,” said Human Rights Watch Deputy Director for Asia Phelim Kline.

Indeed, the Philippines had distinguished itself from many countries when it helped boat people during and in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, he said.

Thus, “the plight of the Rohingya, whether they have or not in their possession documents that attest to the legality of their entry to the Philippines, demands nothing less,” he said.

He said Malacanang’s decision to push back to sea the boat people without travel documents would severely damage the Philippines’ reputation insofar as its international obligations are concerned.

“The Philippines government has a choice – provide a helping hand to citizens of a neighboring country in observance of the Philippines’s international legal obligations or deliberately violate those commitments at the risk of the lives of Rohingya boat people,” Kline said.