Philippine Senate to probe negotiations with US to take in Afghan refugees

Jason Gutierrez
Philippine Senate to probe negotiations with US to take in Afghan refugees Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk through the terminal before boarding a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Virginia, Aug. 27, 2021.
Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

A deal being negotiated between the Philippines and its top military ally, the United States, to house Afghan refugees temporarily in the Southeast Asian nation is now the subject of a looming Senate investigation, officials confirmed to BenarNews.

On Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Manila said it was aware of a planned probe initiated by Sen. Imee Marcos. She said she had received information from an unnamed source that the two longtime allies had begun coordination meetings for the “temporary housing of foreign nationals from Afghanistan.”

The senator filed a resolution directing the Senate to conduct an inquiry into the plan because government officials who attended the meeting were said to have been surprised by the U.S. request that the Philippines provide a haven to Afghan nationals, and that the presidential office in Manila had yet to officially make this public.

It was not immediately clear how many Afghan refugees are being considered under the bilateral negotiations, or if they are among the tens of thousands of people who fled Afghanistan as part of a round-the-clock airlift led by the United States in August 2021.

That’s when the United States pulled the last of its forces out of that country after a 19-year U.S.-led international coalition campaign in the post-9/11 war on terror, and the capital Kabul fell to Taliban extremists.

Young Afghan girls suspiciously eye patrolling American forces in Arghandab district, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in this file photo dated August 2011. [Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

Imee Marcos is the eldest sister of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who met with American leader Joe Biden in his second trip to the United States last month. The Filipino president has been seeking to boost its alliance with Washington amid perceived territorial threats from China in the region.

“We value our alliance with the Philippines,” acting U.S. embassy spokesman Stephen Dove said in a statement Thursday, reacting to Sen. Marcos’ planned investigation.

“We are aware of the draft resolution in the Philippine Senate to conduct an inquiry into the proposed temporary housing in the Philippines of SIV applicants from Afghanistan,” he said, referring to “special immigrant visa” applicants.

He said he could not comment further on “ongoing diplomatic discussions.”

“We regularly talk to our partners on issues of local, regional and global importance,” Dove said.

“The Biden administration remains committed to the thousands of brave Afghans who stood side-by-side with the United States over the course of two decades.”

A spokesperson at the Department of Foreign Affairs, who declined to be named because she was not privy to the discussions, confirmed that talks were ongoing. 

“There could be a decision by the end of this month,” the official told BenarNews on Thursday.

Sen. Marcos, in her Senate resolution, argued that the decision by both countries to keep the negotiations under wraps “brings into question the real nature of such request[s] and approval.”

The Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, which Marcos heads, is to hold a public hearing on the matter on Friday, an aide said.

“The fact that the U.S. made [the] aforesaid request to the Philippines instead of other countries that are geographically much closer to Afghanistan or which are better-equipped to accommodate such foreign nationals raises serious questions on the real intention and purpose of the U.S. in making such a request,” she said in her resolution.

“The fact that the U.S. opted to house these foreign nationals in another country and not on U.S. soil even though these individuals are supporters of the U.S. and, possibly, even former employees of the U.S. government or U.S. companies, casts doubts on the character and background of some of these individuals,” she added.

She noted that it appeared that concerned government agencies were not planning to make “independent verification and investigations on the backgrounds” of the Afghan nationals, raising a substantial risk that any of them could pose a threat to Philippine national security.

A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, as diplomatic vehicles left the compound amid the Taliban advance on the Afghan capital, Aug. 15, 2021. [Rahmat Gul/AP Photo, File]

While President Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, in 2021 said he would allow the entry of Afghan nationals here escaping from the Taliban who had returned to power, his administration “sufficiently disclosed its actions relative to such a policy,” the senator’s resolution read.

But Duterte’s plan never materialized amid fears expressed by the public here that it could lead to a spillover of violence, specifically in the south of the country where violent extremist and militant groups have, for years, maintained links to foreign terrorists.


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