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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Prioritize evacuation plan for OFWs in Taiwan amid China threat—Imee

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Completing an evacuation plan for Filipino migrant workers in Taiwan – which is constantly under threat of invasion by China — should precede any US relocation of refugees from Afghanistan to the Philippines, Senator Imee Marcos said Wednesday.

This developed as Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez debunked insinuations that the American proposal for Manila to allow the entry and temporary housing of Afghan nationals was kept secret from the public.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said the evacuation plan should be the immediate goal of humanitarian and disaster response efforts with the US under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

“The US is preparing an evacuation plan for its citizens in Taiwan, and so is Indonesia for its 350,000 migrant workers,” she noted. “Will we be ready or reactive?”

Despite the assurance of the Department of Foreign Affairs last April, Marcos doubts that a comprehensive evacuation plan is already in place for some 150,000 Filipino domestic workers, caregivers, factory employees, and fishermen in Taiwan, should China move to occupy what it considers its renegade province.

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“No details, no drills. Military exercises have focused on retaliation, not rescue,” the senator said.

“We need answers to how OFWs will assemble amid a widespread scramble to leave. What flight or shipping routes will give them safe passage through a military blockade? What transport will be used, where will they dock, and how often will they fetch Filipino evacuees so that everyone gets out as quickly as possible unharmed?” she added.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III joined Marcos in criticizing the US request. He said housing the foreigners was a “good humanitarian act on the part of the Philippines” but emphasized the question remained for the reason behind it.

“My question is: How come the US cannot do all those temporary measures, the processing and the hosting themselves on US soil?” Pimentel stressed.

“I’m sure the US has better and bigger existing buildings for this use than us,” he said.

Marcos said the US plans to relocate Afghan refugees to third countries like the Philippines should be “a secondary concern for us.”

“The US is rushing to ease its backlog of more than 70,000 Afghans seeking special immigrant status since August 2021, when American troops withdrew from Afghanistan as the Taliban took over,” she stressed. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)

Come August this year, the expiry of a two-year humanitarian parole that allows Afghan refugees to reside and work in the US could complicate the situation if the US Congress fails to act, the senator said.

“With time constraints to process a myriad of special visas, the vetting of refugees may become less thorough and pose security risks for third countries,” Marcos warned.

“Many of them have no documents to prove their work relationship with the US government or companies, particularly spies for the military,” she added.

Giving refugees a decent life in the Philippines will require employment and allocating resources such as food, water, and electricity, which may be subject to local shortages, the senator said.

Romualdez — the senator’s cousin – said it was a good thing Marcos was calling for an inquiry “because there is no secret about this.”

The envoy said the probe would ensure transparency and provide accurate details on the proposed arrangement with Washington.

Romualdez also clarified that the US proposal “is being studied carefully” and that “all security angles are being reviewed.”

“Once this has been completely reviewed, it will be brought up for approval,” the diplomat told GMA News Online.

Citing information from sources, Marcos said the refugees, who are said to be US supporters, will be transported directly into the Philippines from Afghanistan.

Agreeing to the US request will open the Philippines to “substantial risk” from “individuals who pose a threat to national security and public safety,” the senator added.

But Romualdez clarified that under the US request, Afghan nationals, who will be arriving in batches, will be staying temporarily in the country until such time their special immigrant visas are issued.

“They are not going to live here. This is not even a refugee issue, this is a processing issue,” Romualdez said. “It’s more of a legal matter and if we can do that.”

The Filipino envoy said Washington first made the request in October, even as he lamented the “malicious” reports that he is strongly pushing for the US request despite objections from other government agencies, such as the DFA.

As envoy, Romualdez said it is his duty to relay communications and requests from the host government.

Romualdez said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., as chief architect of foreign policy, will be the one to decide on the matter once the review process by the Presidential Management Staff and other concerned government agencies is completed.

Citing the Philippines’ historical tradition of providing sanctuary to refugees in the past, the diplomat said the US sees the country as a place “they can trust and will do such a humanitarian act” of allowing them to process all of these people who worked with the US government in Afghanistan.

“These people and their families might be in danger in an act of reprisal,” he said. “And the most logical place is a trusted ally like the Philippines.”

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