Duterte signs EO to protect refugees in PH

President Duterte has signed an executive order institutionalizing access to protection services for refugees, stateless persons, and asylum seekers.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with key government officials at the Malacañan Palace on February 28, 2022. (KING RODRIGUEZ / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO)

"The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the ability of refugees, stateless persons and asylum seekers to cross borders to seek protection, bringing to fore the need to integrate and institutionalize relevant policies and programs of government agencies and ensure that these communities of people are properly protected and accorded the widest possible exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms," Duterte said.

With this, Duterte issued Executive Order No. 163 dated Feb. 28 "to closely monitor and ensure full protection of the rights of persons of concerns (POCs) to liberty and security, and freedom of movement."

"These shall include the provision of access to socio-economic services, social security benefits, gainful employment and humane working conditions, education, participation in judicial and administrative citizenship proceedings, legal assistance and access to courts, and freedom of religion," the EO stated.

"POCs have the concomitant obligation to abide by the laws and regulations of the country, including measures relating to the protection of public health, and maintenance of public order and national security," it added.

According to Duterte, the EO was in line with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, 1954 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Person, and 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

To ensure that relevant services and assistance are being provided to POCs, an Inter-Agency Committee on the Protection of Refugees, Stateless Persons and Asylum Seekers is likewise established.

The Committee will be composed of various government agencies and will be headed by the secretary of the Department of Justice.

Meanwhile, local government units (LGUs) are also encouraged to "support the integration of the POCs within their communities, conduct information and awareness campaigns, and make available the necessary programs and services to facilitate such integration in local development frameworks, including development programming and emergency response and recovery frameworks."

The Order will take effect immediately upon publication in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper of general circulation.