BEFORE the Philippines can take in any foreign refugees, the government should first make sure that Filipinos displaced by calamities are given priority and given ample funds for their rehabilitation, Malacañang said on Sunday.
“Only recently, [President Benigno Aquino 3rd] declared that we should ensure that rehabilitation efforts are sufficient for our countrymen first because they are our priority,” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
In an interview over state-run Radyo ng Bayan, he explained that while the government abides by the United Nations Convention on Refugees, it is only proper to “study and weigh the ability and resources of a country” before it can accept foreign refugees.
Coloma explained that at present, the government is still preoccupied with relief and rehabilitation programs for victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda, the powerful quake in Bohol and the Zamboanga siege.
“We just want to make sure that we can manage it properly, that we don’t take on more than what we can handle. Vast majority of our people are still living in poverty. We would like to deploy or use our resources to better the lives of our people and do our fair share,” the official quoted the President as saying.
“He [Aquino] gave this utmost importance,” Coloma said.
The Palace official was reacting to a call of the head of the UN Refugee Agency in the Philippines on Aquino to immediately accept Syrian refugees.
But Coloma said that while there is no doubt that the Philippine government must abide by the signed covenant, it must be made clear to the UN the limitations borne out by the recent disasters.
“They must understand our capabilities before we can commit,” he added.
Coloma cited the past experience with Vietnamese refugees who came to the Philippines, which acted as a “reception area” prior to their transfer to other host countries.
“We must know our ‘fair share’ and the basis of determining this is our resources,” he said.