138th IPU Assembly: General Debate Statement of Sen. Loren Legarda

March 27, 2018

General Debate Statement of Senator Loren Legarda

Head of the Philippine Congressional Delegation to the

138th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)

27 March 2018 (Geneva, Switzerland)



Mr. President,

Fellow Parliamentarians,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning/afternoon.


On behalf of the Philippine Delegation, I thank you for this opportunity to lend our voice at this IPU General Debate, on the theme, “Strengthening the Global Regime for Migrants and Refugees: The Need for Evidence-based Policy Solutions.”


Why this debate is important


Eighteen months ago, Heads of State and Government gathered and discussed, at the global level and within the UN General Assembly, for the first time, issues related to migration and refugees.  The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was adopted by 193 member states, recognizing the need for a comprehensive approach to human mobility and enhanced cooperation at the global level.


As in any conference, however, hard work begins after all the delegates shall have left.


This Assembly of Parliamentarians can help move forward not just the commitments of 18 months ago in New York, but of many other treaties and pledges, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in which member states committed to cooperate internationally to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration.


The Philippine Experience


The Philippines has had a long history of migration, both as a sending and receiving country.


While only 3.4% of the world’s population or 258 million are said to be residing or working in countries not of their birth, it is estimated that 10% of the Philippine population or 10 million Filipinos currently reside or work in practically all countries of the world.  They include doctors, scientists, nurses, engineers, architects, information technology specialists, and other skilled workers, including seafarers.  Some of them may even be working in your own households or communities.


While they have helped sustain the continued growth of our economy, there is no denying the fact that they also contribute to the vibrancy of their host countries’ economies.


Our Filipino architects have helped transform the urban landscape in Dubai. Our nurses and doctors have helped revitalize the national health care system of many countries in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas.  In jest, others claim that if all the Filipino nurses in their country would take a vacation at the same time, their hospital care system will collapse. Filipino mothers have left their own families so they can help raise the children of political leaders, monarchs, heads of state, business people, and even ordinary workers.


Some call this reverse foreign aid, with developing countries sharing the best of their human resources with the developed world. We simply call it human development – that of enlarging people’s choices to help them achieve a decent standard of living, self-respect, healthy life, including freedom.  The movement of people, across borders, however, should never be at the expense of human dignity.


Vulnerability of migrants


This leads me to the very important fact that women comprise 73.4% of all migrant domestic workers worldwide.


Unfortunately, respect for women migrant workers, especially those employed in domestic service, is not yet universally shared. There is strong evidence that female domestic workers remain the most vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, forced labor and violence.


In 2015 alone, more than 36,000[1] overseas Filipinos sought assistance from our embassies and consulates.  The Philippine government employs mass repatriation of distressed Filipinos overseas — many of them out-of-status and unemployed for years — because legal remedies are absent in their host countries.


Worldwide displacement in 2015 has reached an all-time high, with one in every 122 humans classified either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.[2]


All these demand not just an evidence-based policy making, but one that is humane as well.



Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration


The UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families entered into force in 2003. To date, there are 59 state parties to this Convention.  Twenty-five, on the other hand, have ratified the International Labor Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189).


The sad reality is manifested through these ratification numbers.  There is collective recognition over the problems facing migrants and refugees, but collective action is lacking. We need a more effective international response.


My fellow Parliamentarians, it is for this reason that we need to pursue the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration as a platform for collective action – one that will set in place a voluntary and non binding international framework to manage international migration acceptable and implementable by all States.


There are a number of salient provisions that the Philippines wants to see in the Global Compact on Migration, among these:

  • First, the Global Compact should be firmly anchored on human rights. This is non negotiable since the Global Compact is about migrants as human beings with dignity and rights.
  • Second, the Global Compact is both a human rights and sustainable development instrument.
  • Third, the standards of protection for migrants should not be less than what had been agreed by leaders of States and enshrined in the 2016 New York Declaration.  It should also be guided by the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and Sendai Framework for Disaster risk Reduction.
  • Fourth, international migration governance is a shared responsibility of all States – sending, receiving and transit states.
  • Fifth, the Global Compact should be gender-responsive and child-sensitive.


The Philippines welcomes the 360-degree approach to the Global Compact negotiations for it conforms to the whole-of-migration cycle, whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches that we have long adhered to.


Given the range of actionable commitments that are expected to be drawn up, it is our view that the International Organization for Migration  should be given a lead and coordinative role in the implementation and capacity building of the Global Compact while fully respecting the mandates and expertise of other UN agencies with migration portfolio.



Global Compact on Refugees


Perhaps unknown to many, the Philippines has also long been a receiving country of refugees. Our country has welcomed numerous waves of refugees — from the first wave of Russians fleeing persecution in 1917; the Spanish republicans fleeing the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939; the European Jews escaping Nazi persecution in World War II; the 30,000 Chinese refugees seeking safe havens in the late 1930s; more than 400,000 Indo-Chinese refugees; the East Timorese refugees at the turn of the century; just to name a few.


The hospitality extended by the Philippines to refugees have not escaped the attention of the UN High Commission for Refugees, which said, and I quote: “The Filipinos seem to naturally and intuitively understand and empathize with people who have been uprooted from their homes by war, conflict, violence, persecution, and calamities.”[3]


My colleagues, it is not, however, intuition that drives us into treating refugees humanely; rather, it is the right and decent thing to do.


I am also proud to say that the Philippines is the first Southeast Asian country to have established a mechanism to determine whether a person of concern is a refugee or is stateless. This “refugee determination process” or program enables refugee applicants and their family members to access services and benefits provided under the refugee and stateless conventions and allows for the suspension of deportation proceedings, subject to Philippine laws and procedures.


We would be happy to share with you our experiences from existing and past refugee situations, upon which lessons may be drawn toward developing a Global Compact on Refugees.




Dear colleagues, let us start with what we do best – debate and discern.  Our sights, however, should go beyond ad hoc and reactive policy measures that cater only to populist demands.  Let us aim for sustainable solutions that address the multifaceted forms of migration challenges.

In doing so, let us be inclusive in the way we craft laws and international frameworks so that those who will be most affected by our actions and decisions are not left on the fringes of the debate and action.


Thank you.

[1] Department of Foreign Affairs, https://dfa.gov.ph/assistance-to-overseas-filipinos-in-distress

[2] UNHCR, unhcr.org/news/latest/2015/6/558193896/worldwide-displacement-hits-all-time-high-war-persecution-increase.html, Accessed March 19, 2018.

[3] Ibid