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PH decision on housing Afghan refugees seen next month —Amb. Romualdez

The Philippine government’s response to the United States’ request for the country to temporarily house Afghanistan refugees while their special immigration visas (SIV) are being processed may come out by around July 15, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said Wednesday.

“I would think that before the middle of July, we should be able to make a decision. The memorandum for the president’s approval or disapproval, whichever the case may be, will be sent to Malacanang as probably as late as July 15… That is more or less what we are tracking right now from here, from Washington DC,” Romualdez said in an interview on ANC.

Should the Philippine government decline the US government's request, Romualdez said it would not affect bilateral relations between the two states.

"Not at all," said Romualdez when asked if Philippine-United States relations would be affected if Manila declined Washington’s request.

“There are many, many more things that we need to work with the United States. Some of them we already said we cannot do it, for some reason or the other. We have been requested on many occasions by the United States to support a [resolution] at the United Nations, on many occasions, we also did not and it did not affect our relations with the United States,” Romualdez said.

“There’s a mutual respect between the United States and the Philippines, especially now, they know that the Philippines is a sovereign nation and that we have our own laws and we want to strengthen our positions in everything,” added Romualdez.

The diplomat also said that it is "not fair for anyone to even think that the United States is out there to push us to do this and that.”

Last Friday, Romualdez told the Senate foreign relations committee that it is up to the Philippines to decide whether they grant or decline the US government’s request.

Should the Philippine government decline the request, Romualdez earlier said the US can go to another country for the processing of the Afghan nationals’ special immigration visas.

“That’s why they (US) are asking and following it up with us and it's up to us what we wanna do with it and whatever concerns we have, whatever we want to tell them, they are prepared to listen and if it is something that is possible, then do it. If not, then they go to another country for this,” Romualdez earlier said.

Senate probe

The Senate foreign relations committee launched an investigation into the matter after Senator Imee Marcos filed a resolution asking why the US opted to house the Afghans in another country and not in their own country even though these individuals were “supporters of the US and possibly, even former employees of the US government or US companies.”

Marcos said, “There is a substantial risk that individuals who pose a threat to national security and public safety may be admitted into and housed in the country.”

According to Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, the DFA received a concept note from the US government last October 22, 2022, which indicated a “request” for the Philippine government to allow Afghans formally employed by the US government and their qualified dependents to temporarily stay in the Philippines to process their SIV applications with the US Embassy in Manila.

In the concept note and in the informal talks that he had with US officials, Manalo said all Afghans would be traveling with valid passports. They would undergo rigorous security vetting and background checks if they had worked for the US government before arriving in the Philippines.

The request was personally raised by US President Joe Biden with President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. during the latter’s state visit to America last May, Manalo disclosed.

If the request is granted by the Philippine government, Manalo and Romualdez said the Afghans are allowed to stay for 30 to 59 days. —Hana Bordey/ VAL, GMA Integrated News