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Philippines Needs To Play Greater Role In Upcoming UNGA To Resolve Rohingya Crisis – OpEd

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Next week in United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), a consensus on Rohingya Repatriation is likely to take place. Bangladesh- the representative of the Rohingya in the international arena will need co-operation from all countries, including the Philippines. It seems that, without a multilateral consensus, Myanmar will only linger the process, especially after the coup. 

Both Bangladesh and the Philippines enjoy warm diplomatic relations without any mentionable dispute among them since 1972. Gradually the bilateral trade is also increasing. At present, the bilateral trade stands at $78 million. According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) statistics, in 2019, Bangladesh has exported $57.6 million to the Philippines, and the Philippines exported $20.7 million to its counterpart. Both countries also have good economic co-operation. After the notorious ‘Bangladesh Bank Heist’ when Hackers siphoned $81 million from Bangladesh Bank, the money was traced in the Philippines. According to the Daily Star report, by 2016, the Philippines under the Anti Money-laundering Act, recovered stolen money worth $15 million and repatriated the amount to Bangladesh.

Historically, the Philippines is always a refugee-friendly country. During the last hundred years, dissidents and displaced have found their new home in the Philippines, including the Jewish holocaust survivor, Russian dissidents, Chinese dissidents, Vietnamese ‘boat people’, Iranian dissidents of the cultural revolution, and many others. The Philippines have a firm belief in the UN 1951 convention and is always ready to help the displaced refugees.  According to the UNHCR, the Philippines have faced nine waves of Refugees in the last hundred years, and all the refugees were warmly welcomed in the Philippines.  Philippines’ such motivation came from their own culture and belief known as ‘Malasakit’ meaning ‘Sharing the Burden of Other’s pain’.  Moreover, most of these refugees became Philippines citizens through the ‘Social Cohesion’ process and made the Philippines a multi-ethnic society.

The Philippines also has a positive outlook on Rohingya issues. The Philippines have shown sympathy for the Rohingya and have expressed their concerns to resolve the issue. In 2020, the Philippines pledged to donate $100 thousand to Rohingya. However, in 2015, the Philippines also accepted 300 Rohingya ‘Boat people’, and in 2017 it promised to take 3 thousand Rohingya facing atrocities in Rakhine. Moreover, according to President Duterte’s 75th UNGA session speech, the Philippines reiterated that the Philippines door is open for Rohingya always. 

In the multilateral forum, the Philippines also played an active role in favor of Rohingya. In Global Refugee Forum 2019, it has pledged to work for the Rohingya. Moreover, as the Chair of ASEAN, the Philippines also tried to solve the problem regionally. However, In UNGA 75th session, the Philippines put its belief in Myanmar then democratic government in building trust and security for repatriation and voted ‘No’ against the resolution.

In 2020, Bangladesh also sought Philippines co-operations. According to the TBS report, in meeting with the Philippines Ambassador to Dhaka, Foreign Minister A.K Momen pursued that the Philippines have close ties with Myanmar and can leverage its influence to resolve the crisis.

Since the February coup, the military regime has overthrown the democratic government in Myanmar. The Philippines have already condemned the coup. Moreover, according to the Anadolu report, it has also called for the release of Suu Kyi. However, the Philippines also respect the sovereignty and self-determination of Myanmar. According to the Rappler report, the Philippines also pledged to provide vaccines to Myanmar while every other donor backed out. But the Philippines also wants surety that the vaccines won’t be used against the dissidents and critiques. However, according to the Philippine star report, Myanmar is eager to bring ‘Status Quo Ante’ in Myanmar just as before the coup. And the reflection of such desire can be found in the Philippines voting in the UN resolution on the Myanmar coup last June, where according to the Philippine Star report, the Philippines voted ‘Yes’ and condemned the coup.

Since the last UNGA session, the situation in Myanmar has changed. The democratic government is no more, and the Junta regime has failed to ensure safety and trust among the citizens, let alone the Rohingya. At present, the repatriation process is on halt. It seems that, without a multilateral consensus, the junta regime will only linger the process. Ensuring repatriation of the Rohingya, dubbed as the ‘World’s Most Persecuted Minority’ of our time, is a moral responsibility for the global community. Moreover, gradually the issue is becoming a regional security threat as the Rohingya are becoming vulnerable to many security concerns, including extremism, contraband, and illegal migration. In this context, as an influential ASEAN state and refugee-friendly state, the Philippines may come forward and vote in favor of Rohingya in the upcoming 76th UNGA session next week and fulfill its pledge as it did so, and believes so as a part of ‘Malasakit’ or ‘Sharing the burden’. 

*Mufassir Rashid, MSS in International Political Economy (Ongoing), Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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