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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Our Afghan issue

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“But since the government is taking a long time to make up its mind, we will just have to wait much longer”

What initially appeared to be a simple and straightforward exercise has now turned to be a more contentious issue.

This is perhaps because of the way the public came to know about it.

By jumping the gun on the government, Senator Imee Marcos now has the upper ground in the debate. Had she not revealed what she knew, it is possible this matter would only have been made public when everything has been ironed out.

In a way, it is better this thing is now out in the open so that all the pros and cons can be debated on properly before deciding whether to undertake it or not.

According to our Ambassador to the United States, Jose Manuel Romualdez, the US has requested that we allow the processing of all those Afghans who worked for the US military together with their families during the 20 year US-Afghan War here in the country before being allowed entry into the US. The request appears to have been made during the trip of PBBM to Washington.

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At a glance, the request appears to be based on humanitarian grounds but, to some, there is something that is not right about the whole issue.

Why, the skeptics are asking, process these people here when there are better facilities in the US?

One answer to this question could be that if some of those to be processed will be found not to be qualified, it will be difficult to get those persons out of that country because of US laws.

It would be a lot easier for the US to deal with such a problem here because US laws do not apply in the Philippines.

There may be other reasons that we do not know about.

In the Senate hearing conducted last week, it is interesting that the Chair of the Committee, Senator Marcos, appeared to be against the proposed entry of those Afghans while the Vice-Chair, Senator Tolentino was for allowing them to enter on humanitarian grounds due to our long history of welcoming refugees.

Whether these Afghans do fall under the category of refugees as defined by United Nations conventions is of course, another matter.

Senator Marcos for her part is wary because of the national security implications of allowing the Afghans here.

What happens for instance to those who do not qualify to enter the US?

Presidential Legal Adviser Juan Ponce Enrile for his part sees nothing wrong because the stay of these people will only be temporary.

Former President Duterte who initially ranted about it is now saying he is not entirely closing the door on the entry of the Afghans.

VP Sarah Duterte, however, is opposing the project because she believes allowing the Afghans into the country is detrimental to our national interest.

It is true that we have a history of welcoming refugees to our shores for a long time.

From the White Russians who escaped the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the more than 1,000 Jewish people that no country was willing accept on the eve of the Second World War were all welcomed with open arms.

This was the same with the second wave of White Russians welcomed by President Elpidio Quirino in 1949.

If we analyze this issue carefully, the processing of these Afghans will essentially be the same to what happened to the tens of thousands of South Vietnamese that underwent processing in Bataan when the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

When the Americans hurriedly left Vietnam as they did in Afghanistan, thousands of former South Vietnamese soldiers and others who worked with them together with their families and relatives were left behind in Vietnam.

They were all processed in Bataan and eventually allowed to settle in the US and other friendly countries.

Those who were not eventually accepted by the US and there were quite a few, applied to settle here and were eventually allowed to stay.

This could very well happen with these Afghans.

If the number of Afghans that will be processed here will be about 50,000 as it was reported, it is very likely that many of them will not qualify.

To assuage the fear of those who are opposing the project on national security grounds, we can make it part of the agreement that it will be the responsibility of the US to relocate those who will not qualify somewhere else and not in this country.

Part of the objection also is administrative.

Since the Bataan processing center is no longer available, where will the thousands of Afghans be housed and who will pay for all the expenses considering the number of people who will be processed. Unfortunately, instead of the DFA providing updates on developments, it is Ambassador Romualdez who has been doing it.

Since it appears that there were some kind of negotiations that have been done both in Washington and here, it would be better for the DFA to speak up instead of keeping quiet.

In the end, this exercise might just turn out to be about us once again providing much needed help to these Afghans who are feeling that they have been left behind to suffer the consequences of helping the US military.

As we always point out, it is in our nation’s DNA to help other people in need which is something we as a people can all be proud of.

But since the government is taking a long time to make up its mind, we will just have to wait much longer.

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