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'No secret' to US request for PH to allow Afghans entry —Amb. Romualdez

There is no secret to the US proposal for the Philippine government to allow the entry and temporary housing of nationals from Afghanistan, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said on Wednesday.

Romualdez made the comment after Senator Imee Marcos called for a Senate probe into the matter. 

“It’s a good thing that Sen. Imee is calling for an inquiry because there is no secret about this,” Romualdez said in a phone interview with GMA News Online, adding that a probe would ensure transparency and provide accurate details on the proposed arrangement with Washington.

Romualdez, a cousin of Senator Marcos, also clarified that the US proposal “is being studied carefully” and that “all security angles are being reviewed.”

“Once this has been completely reviewed it will be brought up for approval,” he said. “I welcome Sen. Imee’s call so that it can be openly discussed. This is not a secret agreement with the United States.”

Citing information from sources, Marcos said the foreign nationals, who are said to be US supporters, will be transported directly into the Philippines from Afghanistan.

Marcos expressed concerns that agreeing to the US request will open the Philippines to “substantial risk” from “individuals who pose a threat to national security and public safety."

Romualdez explained that under the US request, Afghan nationals, who will be arriving in batches, will be staying temporarily in the country until such time their special immigrant visas are issued.

“They are not going to live here. This is not even a refugee issue, this is a processing issue,” Romualdez said. “It’s more of a legal matter and if we can do that.”

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Tuesday joined Senator Marcos in questioning the request of the US for the Philippines to take in Afghan refugees.

Pimentel said housing the foreigners from Afghanistan was a “good humanitarian act on the part of the Philippines" but added that the question remained as regards the reason behind the US' request.

“My question is: How come the US cannot do all those temporary measures, the processing and the hosting themselves in US soil?" the Senate opposition leader said.

"I’m sure the US has better and bigger existing buildings for this use than us,” he added.

Request made in October

The US first made the request in October, Romualdez said as he debunked what he called “malicious” reports saying he is strongly pushing for the US request despite objections from other government agencies, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs.

As envoy, Romualdez said it is his duty to relay communications and requests from the host government.

Romualdez said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., as chief architect of foreign policy, will be the one to decide on the matter once the review process by the Presidential Management Staff and other concerned government agencies is completed.

Romualdez also said the proposal is being studied carefully and all security details are being looked at.

Citing the Philippines’ historical tradition of providing sanctuary to refugees in the past, Romualdez said the US sees the country as a place “they can trust and will do such humanitarian act” of allowing them to process all of these people who worked with the US government in Afghanistan.

“These people and their families might be in danger in act of reprisal,” he said. “And the most logical place is a trusted ally like the Philippines.”

'Security risks'

In a separate statement on Wednesday, Senator Marcos said relocating Afghan refugees to the Philippines should be the government’s "secondary concern," as she stressed the need to prioritize the completion of an evacuation plan for overseas Filipino workers in Taiwan in case tension arises in the area.

"The U.S. is rushing to ease its backlog of more than 70,000 Afghans seeking special immigrant status since August 2021, when American troops withdrew from Afghanistan as the Taliban took over," she said.

Senator Marcos warned that the expiration of a two-year humanitarian parole, which allows Afghan refugees to reside and work in the U.S., in August this year could "complicate the situation" if the US Congress fails to act on it.

"With time constraints to process a myriad of special visas, the vetting of refugees may become less thorough and pose security risks for third countries," Marcos said.

"Many of them have no documents to prove their work relationship with the U.S. government or companies, particularly spies for the military," she added.

Senator Marcos also said that giving refugees a decent life will require employment and the allocation of resources such as food, water, and electricity, which she said may be subject to local shortages. —with Hana Bordey/KG/VBL, GMA Integrated News