By Argyll Geducos
President Rodrigo Duterte said he has communicated his desire to his fellow Southeast Asian leaders to accept Rohingya Muslims as refugees in the Philippines, saying Mindanao could accommodate them.
In a speech in Cotabato City Monday evening, Duterte reiterated his desire to accept the Rohingya Muslims, saying he pities their situation.
“I am prepared. I have communicated my desire na kapagka ‘yung mga Rakhine, ‘yung mga Rohingya sa Burma, kung gusto nila mag-migrate, tatanggapin ko sila (that when the Rohingya Muslims want to migrate, I will welcome them here),” he said.
“Sabi ko, maghati-hati tayo (I said we should divide them among ourselves) — Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines. Ako (Me), I’m ready to accept the Rakhine people,” he added.
United Nations (UN) investigators said as many as 10,000 Rohingya – a Muslim minority in this Buddhist-majority nation – were killed when Myanmar’s military carried out in August 2017 a “systematic and targeted campaign of terror, rape, and murder” against its Muslim population.
According to Duterte, the Rohingyas are not accepted by the Burmese because they are not Buddhists.
“They came from Sri Lanka, tapos nag-migrate sila — kagaya ng ganoon dito. Tapos, ayaw kasi Buddhist, eh. ‘Yun nga ang problema, basta may relihiyon. Buddhist, eh, Muslim sila. Pinagpapatay (They came from Sri Lanka, they migrated just like the people here. But they were unwanted there because the people there are Buddhists. That’s the problem with religion. They were Muslims so they were killed),” Duterte said.
“Boat people, nagpunta sila sa Australia. Pagpunta nila sa Australia, tinulak sila balik doon sa… Wala man silang ano kasi hindi man nila kadugo (They went to Australia but they pushed them away. They didn’t care because they were not of the same race),” he added.
Duterte said if the Philippines accepted Vietnamese refugees in Palawan during the Second World War, the country can do the same for the Rohingya Muslims.
“Tanggapin din natin. Ang laki ng Mindanao. Ito bukid. You plant there. Turuan natin silang mabuhay (Let’s accept them. Mindanao is big, there are fields where they can farm. Let’s teach them how to survive),” he said.
“We will accept yung mga Rakhine, Rohingya refugees (the Rohingya refugees from the Rakhine state),” he added.
Early this month, Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi defended Myanmar in the Hague against accusations of genocide. She said the accusations were misleading as the “cycles of intercommunal violence” in Myanmar date “back to the 1940s.”
The Myanmar military has said that its campaign was a “counterterrorism effort” against a violent Rohingya extremist group.
In February this year, Duterte said he was willing to accept and naturalize the refugees.
“We? I am willing to accept Rohingyas. ‘Yung talagang walang mapuntahan, tatanggapin ko ‘yan, gawain kong Pilipino (Those who really have nowhere else to go, I will make them Filipinos). I am ready to accept refugees, ‘yung sa (the) Rohingyas,” he said.
In November last year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to be active in the humanitarian aspect in the Rakhine State.
“We will do our best to come in, we have to be active in the humanitarian aspect. I mean, physical presence, and not just going in and visiting but being there. I believe there’s an organization for that and that’s our commitment. That was welcomed by the State Chancellor,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said.
In the ASEAN Chairman’s Statement, the 10 Southeast Asian leaders stressed the need to find a comprehensive and durable solution to address the root and causes of the conflict and to create a conducive environment so that the affected communities can rebuild their lives.
They also said that they were looking forward to the full implementation of the agreement signed by Myanmar, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to facilitate the repatriation process of displaced persons from Rakhine State.
The Philippines has expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in the Rakhine State. However, the government opted to oppose the United Nations draft which sought to resolve the crisis.
In a speech in New Delhi, India in January last year, Duterte said that if there was one thing he can advise Aung San Suu Kyi, it is for her to ignore criticisms about human rights and focus on doing her job.
According to Duterte, he told the Burmese leader to not worry about the criticism of human rights advocates about how Myanmar handles the plight of the Rohingya Muslims. It was not specified, however, when he told the Nobel Prize winner his sentiments.