Message of the Philippine Bishops on Migration Sunday


On August 19 the whole world will celebrate Migration Day.  The existence of such a universal observance indicate the existence of a universal problem.  Two world wars and frequent changes of government in many nations have sent people fleeing across borders in frantic waves of escape.

It happens that this problem which is highlighted in Migration Day is especially acute here in the Far East, due to the Vietcong conquest of South Vietnam and other subsequent red power plays.  The Philippines, because it is situated close to the scene of disturbance, is especially affected.

The problem here in the Philippines is twofold:  first and especially that of unauthorized migration to the Philippines, mostly from South Vietnam; and secondly the problem of Vietnamese legally admitted and settled here, but confronted with grave problems of assimilation.

It has been estimated that there are 13 million refugees in the world, a large part of them in Southeast Asia.  In Thailand alone there were at a recent date 100,000, who had fled from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.  Malaysia and Indonesia have received large numbers of refugees from their neighbors to the north.  Countries outside Asia have also absorbed many.  The United States has received the greatest number absolutely speaking; but France has been more generous in proportion to its population.  Canada, Australia, Israel, West Germany, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Great Britain have all accepted refugees in various numbers.

The Philippines has on the whole pursued a generous policy with regard to them.  President Marcos said; “The Philippines is willing to extend all possible aid to the refugees within its resources.”  Ours is one of the few countries in Southeast Asia that allows “boat” cases to land, though on an unofficial basis and only after some delay.  Those who arrive must undergo a processing which runs from several weeks to several months.  The very sick however are allowed to disembark for treatment in local hospitals.  This position of the Philippines has not been well-known since for reason of public policy it has not been widely publicized.  After being processed the “boat” cases are taken to Jose Fabella Center in Mandaluyong, Rizal while the Philippine Government negotiates with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and with the various countries throughout the world to obtain a permanent home for the refugees.  But the Center remains filled to capacity, for as soon as refugees leave, others quickly take their place.

The Catholic Church meanwhile is cooperating fully with the civil authorities and is also extending aid on its own initiative.  The Center for Assistance to Displaced Persons (CADP), an arm of the Counselling Agency for Migrants, which in turn is a kind of secretariate for the Episcopal Commission on Migration and Tourism, cooperates closely with government agencies handling the problem.  Between arrival at Philippine shores and temporary acceptance into the Philippines, two weeks to three months may elapse.  The government does not during this period provide for the material needs of the refugees who all arrive in great destitution.  This is especially true of those who have been picked up in the open sea.  The CADP provides, at least in part, for these “boat” cases during the processing.

After the refugees have been admitted to Fabella Center where they number more than 2,000, they continue to be the object of the Church’s concern during their four months there.  Father Pietro Nguyen Van Tai, a Vietnamese priest, is their chaplain.

Another category of Vietnamese immigrants, different from the “boat” people, consists of those who have come to the Philippines as dependents of Filipinos.  They are mostly women and children, seeking a husband and father.  Upon arrival they may find the man whom they are looking for married to a Filipina with a family here also.  The CADP is more involved with this class of immigrant than with the “boat” cases, offering them a variety of services:  training, employment, housing, education, document translation, etc.  The Archbishop of Manila has had a housing unit constructed inside Caritas Manila Compound in Pandacan for their benefit.

The total refugee picture suggests some salutary reflections.  There has been much real charity brought out by this phenomenon.  Those unnamed ship captains who stopped to pick up shipwrecked refugees adrift on the high seas; the citizens of the neighboring and remote countries who opened their shores to them and relieved their distress; the International Catholic Migration Commission at Geneva which in the past 26 years has disbursed 47 million dollars in interest-free loans; these are encouraging examples of true humanity shown in confronting the problem.  There has been much inhumanity too.  First there is the callous cruelty of the Communist regime that causes and even exploits this misery.  Then there are the pirates who attack, rob and kill the unfortunate people at sea.  Also there are the countries that have refused to admit them under any conditions.  Finally there are the nations that agree to accept them but then exercise an inhuman discrimination in their choices.

The problem presents a challenge to Christians.  And that should mean to the Philippines.  Admittedly the acceptance of numerous refugees can create problems with regard to employment, short resources, and even perhaps to law and order.  But it seems that Christian charity should be able to surmount any obstacles that arise from these sources.  If we are to admit only those who demand no sacrifice on our part, who are contributions to our economy and assets to our national life, what is there in this to make it Christian charity.  The pagans do as much!

So our assistance must be supported with a willingness to make sacrifices.  Help must be given in a spirit of faith and charity, faith that God will not allow the Philippines to suffer because of generosity in helping these wretched people, charity because they are children of God and brothers of Jesus Christ.

In other countries aid to the refugees has been in an extraordinary measure the work of churches, of private agencies and private individuals, substantially supplementing the government efforts.  We appeal here to our government to be generous and self-sacrificing in helping these people.  But we appeal also to all, private individuals, private agencies and churches to extend help to these victims of injustice.  Finally we appeal to our fellow Catholics, and to governments and men of good will throughout the world to meet this challenge in a big spirit of generous self-sacrifice, confident that God will not allow himself to be outdone in generosity.  No country will experience economic distress because of help it may give to the victims of cruel oppression.


For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:




Archbishop of Manila

President, CBCP

19 August 1979



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