PH not a 'country of concern,' says US State Dep't

Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 02 2017 08:06 PM | Updated as of Feb 02 2017 09:15 PM

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Senior Advisor Jared Kushner (standing, L-R), Vice President Mike Pence and Staff Secretary Rob Porter welcomes reporters into the Oval Office for him to sign his first executive orders at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 20, 2017. Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

The US State Department today clarified that the Philippines has not been marked by US authorities as a "country of concern," which means Filipinos can continue their travels to and from the US, or benefit from residing and working in the United States. 

Last week, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order denying US entry to citizens of seven countries, namely, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. 

The order also covers everyone with a visa from these countries, including "green card" holders who left the US and plans to come back. They will undergo scrutiny and might be prohibited from re-entering the US.

US State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner said the Philippines is not part of the "countries of concern" they are looking into or would be included further on their list as of this time, allaying fears that US authorities might conduct stringent measures against Filipinos entering the US.

"The Philippines was not among those countries that was labeled of concern so I would say that Philippines, Filipinos both in the United States and in Philippines themselves, should by all means, we welcome them to the United States," Toner said in a news conference.

"Speaking more broadly about the executive order signed last week, obviously all of you know that the Philippines was not one of the countries where a pause was initiated with regards to visas and with regards to refugees," he added.

Toner, however, was speaking in terms of those who have legal resident status and other visa holders who wish to travel to US.

American authorities, under new president Trump, have been under strict orders to deport illegals and those who have criminal records.

"This is a decision that the president took in the national interest of the State. He has said very clearly that his first priority is to protect American lives and American citizens, and so he wanted us to conduct a review on some of the processes by which people travel into the United States," he said.

While the US government has no issues against the Philippines, Toner advised all who wish to travel to the US, for whatever reason, to make sure that they will have legal status in the US. 

"I recommend Filipinos who wish to travel to the United States, (they) should consult with the embassy of Manila," Toner said.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The only continuing concern that the US has with the Philippines even under President Trump, Toner said, are reports of human rights violations and alleged extra-judicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

"We will sometimes have concerns, certainly about human rights, it's one of those concerns, but we also believe we have relationships where we can talk about some of these areas of concern. At the same time that we pursue a very productive and forward-looking bilateral relationship, we want to make this relationship even stronger," Toner said. 

“It’s one of our core relationships certainly in Asia, but even beyond that, it is a relationship that is defined by many thousands of Filipino-Americans who have made home in our country but remained culturally tied to the Philippines but it's also across many sectors - security, economic, political."

The US State Department emphasized that the US-Philippine alliance is a relationship that the Americans value.

"We will continue to work productively with the Philippines where we can. I can say that the willingness of the United States to work constructively with the Philippines remains." he said. 

According to the data of the US Embassy in Washington DC, which was sourced out from the US Department of Homeland Security, out of 3-4 million Filipinos in US , there are around 310,000 illegal Filipino immigrants. According to the Philippine embassy, these illegal immigrants are mostly in the states of Hawaii and Florida.