Press Release
June 20, 2018


Today, we are one with the international community in celebrating World Refugee Day.

We thank the Catholic Church, various human rights groups, academic institutions, experts, and other civil society organizations for our collective effort to push for a meaningful measure which seeks to promote and protect the rights of refugees and stateless persons.

The Philippines may be a developing country, but history serves as witness that despite our limited resources, we have a big heart and genuine concern for those who are in need. In the past century, we have accommodated the "White Russians" who fled Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, the Jews during World War II, the Chinese in the aftermath of the Communist revolution, and the Vietnamese "boat people" after South Vietnam was taken over by North Vietnam.

As a human rights advocate, I am committed to strengthen our country's stance in providing assistance to refugees. In 2015, during my tenure as justice secretary, I put forth the idea of sending ships to rescue 3,000 Rohingya refugees from the sea and provide them shelter. And now as Senator, I supported a draft resolution submitted to the Inter-Parliamentary Union expressing serious concerns over the humanitarian crisis affecting the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

Though the Philippine government has adopted and implemented policies addressing some of the challenges posed by the global refugee phenomenon, primarily the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, we still do not have a law that sets a firm and clear mechanism in determining the status of refugees and stateless persons, and their eligibility for protection in our country. Thus, it is high time to enact a law to institutionalize the status determination procedure for them.

The bitter truth: In certain parts of the world, there are still millions of people who live in fear and are sick and tired of decades-old conflict, violence, and persecution; there are parents who only want their children to be safe and to live a normal life but there is nowhere for them to go. There are children, innocent and helpless, who are out in the cold.

In his profound message during the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in January 2016, Pope Francis stated: "How many minors are still forced to fight in militias as child soldiers! How many people are victims of organ trafficking, forced begging and sexual exploitation! Today's refugees are fleeing from these aberrant crimes, and they appeal to the Church and the human community to ensure that, in the outstretched hand of those who receive them, they can see the face of the Lord."

Sa panukalang batas na inihain ko ngayong araw na ito, ipinapakita natin sa buong mundo ang tunay na katangian ng lahing Pilipino: Maka-Diyos, may malasakit, may respeto sa buhay, dignidad, at karapatang pantao.

Now is the time to take another momentous leap in humanity; to strengthen and protect the rights of refugees and stateless persons. Let us take pride in being Filipinos-being responsible citizens and compassionate brothers and sisters living in a just and peaceful community.

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