Government won’t allow entry of terrorists – DOJ

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star
Government won�t allow entry of terrorists � DOJ
This file photo shows Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
The STAR / Rudy Santos, File

MANILA, Philippines — While the Philippines welcomes refugees and political asylum seekers from other countries like strife-torn Afghanistan, the government would have to screen them thoroughly to block the entry of terrorists, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said yesterday.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that if refugees from Afghanistan would apply for permanent status as refugees, the National Bureau of Investigation and the National Intelligence and Coordinating Agency would verify if the applicant poses a threat to national security.

The Philippine government has the DOJ’s Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit (RSPPU) as the lead agency dealing with foreigners seeking asylum.

“If Afghan nationals do arrive in the Philippines and apply for permanent status as refugees, the DOJ-RSPPU will evaluate whether they meet the international standards for refugee status,” Guevarra said.

“Upon determination and grant of refugee status by the DOJ, the Bureau of Immigration will implement the decision and issue the appropriate documentation to the applicant,” he added.

The DOJ secretary said that the government would be on alert over the possibility that terrorists might use this as an opportunity to blend in with legitimate refugees to sneak into the country.

Last Tuesday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the Philippines is willing to accept asylum seekers fleeing from Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country.

Elaborating on the subject, Guevarra said: “The Philippines adopts an open arms policy towards refugees and other persons suffering persecution in their home countries. These include potential Afghan refugees displaced by the current political upheaval in their country. If their status as refugees is recognized by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and they need temporary shelter in the Philippines, we have an Emergency Transit Mechanism in place pursuant to a memorandum of agreement with the UNHCR.”

As of now, there is no exact number of Afghan refugees or order of priority on who would be accommodated, he said.

“Everything is on a case-by-case or person-to-person basis. Once granted refugee status, an applicant and his family are essentially on their own. But the Philippine government may extend such assistance as it could afford,” he added.

Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos, vice chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, welcomed the government decision to open its doors to refugees from Afghanistan, calling it “very humane” and “very biblical.”

“We are known to be hospitable, helpful and hardworking people. We have hosted and helped those who were fleeing the Indochina wars known as ‘boat people.’ To accept refugees is a very humane and compassionate act which is so inspiring, salvific and very biblical,” Santos said.

Also, Manila Archbishop Jose Cardinal Advincula offered his prayers for peace in Afghanistan.

Mindanao under control

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) assured the public that security measures are in place in Mindanao to prevent any possibility of a spillover of tension resulting from developments in Afghanistan.

“I assure the public that the police and military will not allow a spillover of the Afghan conflict,” Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP chief, said yesterday.

Earlier, Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research chief Rommel Banlaoi warned that tensions in Afghanistan could inspire local terrorist groups to launch attacks in the Muslim south. – Emmanuel Tupas, Robertzon Ramirez, Rudy Santos

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