I am certain you know of the Philippines’ “Open Doors Policy” in the late 1930s when with extreme altruism and liberality, President Manuel L. Quezon open our borders to more than 1,200 Holocaust refugees and saved them from persecution and certain death.
During a time when most nations closed their doors to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi atrocities in Europe, the Philippines became a veritable haven for men, women, and children who have experienced discrimination, violence, and cruelty simply because they were Jews.
What Quezon did almost a century ago just before the dark and malevolent shadow of fascism and Nazism engulfed a whole continent and the brutalities of war devastated Europe, was not only magnanimous.
It was just and honorable. It was a pure act of kindness in a world that was slowly being ravaged by evil.
The world may not be at war now but there is still a surfeit of refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and internally displaced persons (IDPs) driven from their homes and families because of conflict, political persecution, human rights abuses, poor economic conditions, and natural or man-made calamities.
The Congress must take its cue from that commendable moment in our history and finally enact House Bill 8269 or “An Act Protecting the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Penalizing the Acts of Arbitrary Internal Displacement” and its counterpart measures in the Senate; House Bill 4561 or the “Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Act”; and House Bill 7527 or “An Act Ensuring Gender Equality in Naturalization Laws”. House Bill 8926 has been approved by the House on second reading.
It is my hope that President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. will take inspiration from Manuel L. Quezon and give utmost priority to the aforementioned bills in his legislative agenda.
A rights-based, clear, and rational policy response in answering the challenging problem of statelessness, IDPs and asylum seekers is imperative if the Philippines is to fulfill its international commitments.
The Philippines was the first country in Southeast Asia to ratify the 1954 United Nations Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons. It is also one of the few countries in the entire region to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The country also works closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in providing humanitarian protection to refugees and asylum seekers, and finding solutions to reduce the incidence of statelessness and the occurrence of internal displacement.
We have an excellent track record to build on and I am confident that with the knowledge and skills you have acquired in this advocacy-based capacity building seminar, you will be indispensable in enlightening your respective principals and clarifying issues pertinent to statelessness, IDPs, refugees, and asylum seekers, even as you can encourage them to support the aforementioned bills or even propose additional legislative measures that will support and give succor to people who have to make the agonizing decision to leave their homes and everything that is close to them in search of a safer place and a better life.
The Philippines’ “Open Door Policy” in the late 1930s is proof of how simple human decency can triumph over prejudice and bigotry. It is an enduring commitment to safeguard fundamental human rights by opening a door towards freedom for fellow human beings and also give them a sanctuary they can call a home.
There is still so much to be done to attain a world where people will not be forced out of their homes because of armed conflict, political upheaval or disasters. But the enactment into law of these bills are a step in the right direction and a timely reminder that regardless of gender, ethnicity or nationality, it is our humanity that binds us together and is the symbol of our common homeland.
Thank you and wishing you utmost fulfillment in your capacity building seminar.