Biden told Marcos about US proposal for temporary stay of Afghans in PH
MANILA, Philippines — United States President Joe Biden raised to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. the request to temporarily house in the Philippines applicants from Afghanistan who are seeking special immigrant visas (SIVs).
Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said this before the Senate foreign affairs committee on Friday during its probe into the proposed deal between the two countries.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had “directly raised” the proposal to Manalo – verbally and through a letter.
“And in fact, President Biden also briefly raised the issue with President Marcos during his visit last May,” Manalo said.
The request, however, had been forwarded to the Philippine government as early as October 2022.
Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez said the embassy received the ”formal request” from the US government.
“It was also followed up with us through the State Department, whether this was possible for us to consider. And so we immediately sent this request to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Secretary,” he recalled.
“I spoke about it briefly, and he (Manalo) said he was going to have this studied before any action can be taken,” Romualdez added.
Manalo confirmed that the DFA was made aware of the US request through a concept note from their government.
The proposal, he said, was for the Philippines to allow Afghans formerly employed by the US government, as well as their qualified dependents, to temporarily stay in the country to have their SIVs processed with the US Embassy in Manila.
“So we immediately launched consultations with the relevant Philippine agencies to study the concept note and assess the request,” Manalo said.
NICA left out?
A cloud of confusion seemingly filled the room as they discussed when relevant agencies were first informed about the US proposal.
Manalo said informal inter-agency consultations were held in October 2022.
They had invited representatives of the DFA, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Department of Justice, Department of National Defense, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), and Philippine National Police.
He also said a copy of the concept note from US government was provided to the agencies.
NICA Director General Ricardo de Leon, however, said this issue was only formally mentioned to them during an Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) meeting in April.
De Leon further said they received a letter detailing the request from the National Security Agency last March 20.
“It was a letter coming from the NSA, not a concept note,” he clarified.
The Bureau of Immigration, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, and Department of Education (DepEd) were brought into the loop much later.
They were invited to an inter-agency technical coordination meeting led by the Presidential Management Staff on June 7.
DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa noted that the proposal was brought to their attention in March, when de Leon sought the comment of Vice President and concurrent Education Secretary Sara Duterte.
Asked if Philippine government made any effort to make public the ongoing discussions about the proposal, Manalo said no.
“Because we were still consulting and trying to assess the implications of this proposal, so nothing was final in that sense because we were still trying to collate all the views,” he explained.
From their initial consultations, Manalo said they felt it was necessary to bring the discussions to “a slightly higher level” through the ATC.
The ATC later asked to further elevate the proposal to the Cabinet, he added.