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The Thoughtful Gesture and genuine humanitarian spirit of Filipinos

Myanmar’s state Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and visiting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (R) toast prior to a dinner at the president’s house in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, 20 March 2017. EPA/HEIN HTET/ Manila Bulletin

By Aman Ullah

“You save one’s soul, you save humanity”, A great Filipino

The Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte presented Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and currently State Counsellor, with a bouquet of roses and $300,000 (P15 million) for humanitarian assistance to the marginalized Rohingya people in the Rakhine region during his visit Myanmar on March 20.

Duterte came to Myanmar for a two-day official visit on 19th of this month. The main purpose of Duterte’s visit to Myanmar is to complete visits to nine fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, which the Philippines is helming this year.

President Duterte two-day official visit to Myanmar was end with a 30-minute meeting with Burmese State Counsellor, promising to her to help the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority group whose plight in the predominantly Buddhist country.

A Malacañang press release said this was the “biggest donation made so far by an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member state to Myanmar’s Rakhine State this year.

Suu Kyi thanked the Philippines for its donation and said that, “The thoughtful gesture of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines reflects the ASEAN solidarity and family spirit as well as the traditional bonds of friendship and cooperation between the 2 countries,”

It is really a thoughtful gesture of the Government and the peoples of the Republic of Philippines and it is not first time that they show their gesture towards Rohingya people who are very much in need of help.

In 2015, when thousands of Rohingya migrants remain stranded in the Andaman Sea, while authorities around the region refuse to take them in.

The scale of the crisis at that time was unknown to anybody. No organization, from the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to Rohingya rights groups, knows how many boats there were. The number of migrants stranded aboard these ships, however, is estimated to be in the thousands.

Despite a plea from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, urging Southeast Asian leaders to uphold “international law” and “the obligation of rescue at sea,” Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia refused to accept the “boat people” — men, women and children who remained on ships, with rapidly dwindling provisions.

However, it was only the Filipinos of the Philippines, despite being geographically distant from the epicenter of this growing humanitarian crisis, who offered to allow the migrant boats landing rights.

According to Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr, the Philippines has extended humanitarian assistance for “boat people” in the past, citing its establishment of a processing center for Vietnamese migrants in the 1970s. Citing the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, or which the Philippines is a signatory, Coloma said: ‘We shall continue to do our share in saving lives under existing and long-standing mechanisms pursuant to our commitments under the Convention.’ The UN describes this as “the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights, and the legal obligations of states.”

Coloma’s comment came when Thoughtfulnearly 3,000 migrants have been swimming to shore or been rescued off Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand over the week, with thousands more believed to be drifting on boats without food or water.

At the same time, Coloma emphasized that the Philippines “has accorded humane treatment to ‘boat people’ and even established a refugee processing center in Morong, Bataan.”

Philippines, being the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to establish a procedure to protect both refugees and stateless people, has shown again their genuine humanitarian spirit. We, all the Roningya peoples both at home and aboard, are very much grateful to the Government of Philippines. We are also grateful to all the Filipinos.

There are still some comments of the Filipinos of that time in our memories.

• This makes me prouder to be a Filipino than any boxing win, talent show finals, or economic data. Let’s be true to who we are as Filipinos. We are not a wealthy nation and have little to spare. We are not their immediate neighbours. Most of us do not share the same religion or ethnicity. And none of these matter. What matters is they need our help. And help we will. We act because we must. We neither lead nor follow because we alone act. When we expect no support or payment in return, I know we are doing the right thing. I want to go further and ask the Philippine government not to demand travel documents. These are stateless people denied citizenship by their own country. Using the Interpol database and biometrics is sufficient enough precaution. Let’s not make their lives any harder. . (Romano Jorge)

• The very core of this issue is the humanitarian effort of the Philippines to help these unwanted human beings. Why? Because it is the most humane thing to do. It is the right thing to do. Set aside those political issues and let the natural human kindness lead the way. After reassuring their state of wellbeing then we can talk about politics. (Jonnny)

• The world communities are all so good to us, Filipinos. It is now time to give back. (Chito Valderrama)

• How could they obtain travel documents when they are fleeing for their lives? For the sake of humanity, they should be helped. ( Tecla Perez)

• I confess, we do this for ourselves. Because do not want to be that kind of nation that willfully lets people die at sea. Because, we do not want future generations to carry such a stain upon our history. Because if we did nothing when we could, we would be unforgivable. (Romano Jorge)

• The Philippines has shown, time and again, it’s “open doors” policy. The European Jews (during the time of M.L. Quezon), White Russians (during the time of E. Quirino) and the Vietnamese can attest to that.(observer)

• Let our nation be hospitable and generous to be a blessing to desperate people!( davidslim53)

• We may not have much but we have the heart of compassion and our infectious sense of humor. We have done this before and we can surely do it again by God’s grace. All the “pinoy tv/radio dramas” have trained us to share what little we have.( Fredda Perez)

• Helping people who are in need is all our responsibility. We don’t have to be bother weather they are a Muslim , or undocumented Malay¬sia ,Thailand and Indonesia especially Bangladesh and Myanmar you’re governance are a disgrace to humanity , discrimination against these people does not express the peace we want to achieve as a United Nation.(Reply Leo Manata)

• As an Australian citizen it is a joy to me see the all the supportive comments below concerning the Philippines Government`s in principle support for the commitment to the Refugee Convention and other human rights related conventions which it has ratified. It is the opposite from the totally immoral position of Australian governments in recent years on this topic and I have to admit blind support from many of the populace here for Abbott and his supporters like Scott Morrison. It makes me proud to have in-laws in the Philippines.( Darrylk Grigg)

• Reminds me when the Philippines provided shelter to the Jewish refugees during the holocaust. Good to know we are being humane. (Jen Pagay)

• How can you demand a travel documents from people who were persecuted by their own country? These people are refugees, driven by their own government who do not recognize them, Asking travel documents from people who escape from their country’s cruelty is stupidity. (Ernie Rivera)

• There is nothing wrong if the Philippines would prefer to help these “boat people”. HOWEVER, our government should also create/take PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES especially when it comes to HEALTH/MEDICAL screening to protect us Filipinos from unwanted outbreak of any kind. (Kurinera Diaries)

• A great filipino once said, over poker game, “that’s the right thing to do”…”you save one’s soul, you save humanity”, said the other one of her belief. For that, the bell rings big time to me. is it impossible to do? The answer is big no!(Amel Amador)

• Its good news, I’m happy we’re doing this. (Aju Enrique)

• Humanitarian organizations and charitable institutions, now is the time to act. Regardless of one’s political stance, government needs our help feeding and sheltering these people. (Romano Jorge)

• Simple, because (1) we are a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention Law. Because (2) , like the Rohingya’s, we have thousands of undocumented Filipinos overseas and those working in conflict areas whose protection might based on the goodwill of receiving states. Because (3) that is the human thing to do… Who knows, one of these days, you’ll be the one needing protection by other states…(Makatalakbayan)

May God bless to all Filipinos.

About Author:
Mr. Aman Ullah, a Rohingya historian based in Bangladesh and he was a former school teacher in Ann township and the southern part of Maungdaw, Arakan State, Myanmar, who has contributed in the field of Rohingya history and humanitarian stance.