June 12, 2023
MANILA – Sen. Imee Marcos on Friday said her brother’s administration had agreed to a supposed discreet plan to grant a request by the United States to provide a safe haven in the Philippines for Afghans suspected to be “American spies” who fled their Taliban-led country.
The eldest sibling of President Marcos said she had obtained information that the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) held a meeting on June 7 with representatives of various state agencies after the US government allegedly asked the Philippines to extend “special immigration status” to a group of Afghans.
Marcos, who chairs the Senate foreign affairs committee, on Thursday filed a resolution seeking an inquiry into the plan and questioned the PMS decision to keep the results of the “technical coordination meeting” from the public.
“There’s a lack of transparency in the present case,” the senator said in a statement.
“This evident intent of the PMS to withhold from the public any information pertaining to the request of the US and the approval thereof by the Philippine government brings into question the real nature of such request and approval,” she said in Senate Resolution No. 651.
She called on National Security Adviser Eduardo Año and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. to look into the matter.
Former President Rodrigo Duterte had announced that the Philippines would welcome Afghan asylum seekers after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 2021. In contrast, her brother’s administration has not issued any open statements on the refugees or asylum seekers.
According to the senator, a memorandum of agreement was being prepared to allow a group of Afghans to temporarily stay in the country. She did not give details such as how many they were, the nature of their links to the United States or American authorities and how long they planned to stay in the Philippines.
Marcos said the supposed refugees, who were “allegedly US supporters,” would be flown “directly” from Afghanistan, which has no official diplomatic ties with the Philippines.
She said a memorandum of agreement covering the US request was allegedly being finalized.
“During the past year, security and espionage threats have substantially increased because of the sharp escalation in tension between rival superpowers,” she noted. She was referring to the US and China which had been at loggerheads over the West Philippine Sea and Taiwan, and also the conflict between Washington and Moscow over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Marcos said the Philippines should take a “more cautious stand” in accommodating refugees from other countries, particularly those being “brokered” by a superpower.
Raises serious questions
She said Washington’s request to accommodate refugees 6,000 kilometers away from Manila “raises serious questions on the real intention and purpose of the US.”
“The fact that the US opted to house these foreign nationals in another country and not on US soil … casts doubts on the character and background of some of these individuals,” she said.
“There is a substantial risk that individuals who pose a threat to national security and public safety may be admitted into and housed in the country,” she added.
Without citing the source of her information, the senator said the Afghans were “supporters of the US and, possibly, even former employees of the US government or US companies.”
The Presidential Communications Office did not respond to the Inquirer’s request for comment.
US Embassy spokesperson Kanishka Gangopadhyay said in a statement to the Inquirer that they “do not comment on ongoing diplomatic discussions.”
Gangopadhyay noted, however, that the Biden administration “remains committed to the thousands of brave Afghans who stood side-by-side with the United States over the course of the past two decades.”
Since the early 20th century, the Philippines has been accepting refugees from war-torn countries.
In the 1930s, President Manuel Quezon’s “Open Door” policy provided safe refuge to over 1,300 Jews to escape Nazi persecution and the Holocaust. That gesture later won praise for the Philippines, particularly from Israel.
In 1949, the country granted asylum to about 1,000 “White,” or anti-Bolshevik, Russians who were settled at Tubabao town in what is now Eastern Samar.
Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Philippines accepted thousands of Vietnamese “boat people” who fled North Vietnamese forces that overran the country after about two decades of fighting US-backed South Vietnamese regimes.
The Philippines became one of their new homes until they were resettled in the United States and other Western countries. Some of them remained in the country.
When the Rohingya refugee crisis caused by the alleged genocidal policies of the Myanmar government broke out in 2017, Duterte announced that his administration was willing to accept those fleeing the brutal military regime.
A month after Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, then Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. disclosed that the Philippines had taken in Afghan refugees, including women and children.
“Our doors are open to those fleeing, conflict, persecution, sexual abuse and death,” he said on Twitter on Sept. 8, 2021. Locsin refused to give other details for the safety of the refugees.
On Feb. 16, 2022, the Supreme Court announced that it had made it easier for stateless individuals and refugees seeking sanctuary in the country to acquire Philippine citizenship, including minors who have lost their parents and legal guardians.
The new policy was adopted nearly five months after Duterte told the United Nations General Assembly that the Philippines would provide asylum for Afghans who fled their country after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.
The Supreme Court said the rule was consistent with the Philippines’ international commitments under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
On Feb. 28, 2022, Duterte signed Executive Order No. 163, establishing the Inter-Agency Committee on the Protection of Refugees, Stateless Persons and Asylum Seekers which is tasked with ensuring protection services for refugees, stateless persons and asylum seekers.