MANILA – Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President Soc Villegas lauded the Philippine government for its willingness to accept sick and hungry refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
In a statement, the Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop said ''there is a moral obligation to protect them from the harm they flee from. There is a legal obligation not to forcibly repatriate them. And by all precepts of morality and decency, there is an obligation not to leave them to the mercilessness of the elements on the high seas."
Villegas said while the Philippines has little resources to accommodate all the migrants, ''there is always room for the weary and burdened to rest on our shores before they continue on their journey."
The refugees, composed mostly of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and economic migrants from poverty-stricken Bangladesh, have set sail toward neighboring countries to seek a better life.
The Rohingya minority is dubbed by the Untied Nations as one of the most persecuted in the world, denied citizenship by largely Buddhist Myanmar.
Myanmar's immediate neighbors in Southeast Asia – Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia – however have turned them away, leaving them adrift in the high seas, without food on board rickety boats.
Some of them were abandoned by human smugglers who promised to bring them to the neighboring countries.
The migrant crisis has cast a shadow on the reputation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN), whose members are seeking to integrate their respective economies this year.
In what could be a sign of hope for the migrants, the Philippines said its doors are open for anyone fleeing persecution.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima even said the Philippines should send ships to the desperate minorities, as doubts persist over whether the migrants can actually reach Philippine shores with their rickety boats.
Historically, the Philippines has accepted refugees from Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Israel also owes the Philippines after the latter hosted Jewish people during the Second World War.