MANILA, May 22, 2015—Taking his cue from the Holy Father himself, a leading cleric has called on the Filipino faithful to welcome the “boat people” from Myanmar in keeping with the Christian duty of helping those who are desperately in need.
In an interview with Church-run Radio Veritas, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick S. Pabillo echoed the appeal Pope Francis had earlier made on behalf of Europe-bound migrants from Libya, Iraq, and Syria, saying the Philippines must do what it can to at least temporarily relieve the Rohingya refugees of their miseries.
“We should accept these people. Turning them away is as good as giving them the death sentence. We cannot afford to do that,” shared the prelate.
Pabillo, who also chairs the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)’s Permanent Committee on Public Affairs (PCPA), explained Filipinos must extend compassion to these poor asylum-seekers, given that they only want to live in peace just like anyone else.
The bishop recalled what the country had done in the 1970s and 1980s when it sheltered boatloads of Vietnamese fleeing the war back in their homeland.
“Perhaps we can ask help from the U.N. [United Nations] just like what we did before when we hosted Vietnamese refugees. Because of our assistance, they were able to rebuild their lives,” Pabillo said.
“In fact, many of them prospered. Eventually, they moved someplace else. But we served them well both materially and spiritually,” he added.
PH willing to help anew
Earlier, the head of the Church’s policy-making body issued a pastoral letter lauding the Philippine government for its willingness to open the country’s doors to the Rohingyas.
“While it may be true that there is no legal obligation on the part of the Republic of the Philippines or that of any other country to grant asylum to every refugee or displaced person, there is a moral obligation to protect them from the harm they flee from. There is a legal obligation not to forcibly repatriate them. And by all precepts of morality and decency, there is an obligation not to leave them to the mercilessness of the elements on the high seas,” notes CBCP President Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan.
While admitting the country’s economic resources may not allow it to welcome every migrant as a permanent resident, Villegas stresses there is always room for the “weary and burdened” to rest on Philippine shores before the refugees continue on their journey.
“Once, our land was resplendent not only because of tourist spots and destinations, but because we welcomed refugees with the hospitality that has made us famous the world over. God gives us this chance once more to bind the wounds of body and spirit, warm the hearts and embrace in solidarity our brothers and sisters who come to us from troubled lands,” he adds. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News with reports from Romeo Ojero II)