Published 11 November 2022, The Daily Tribune

It seems like it was only yesterday when humanity was first hit by what many considered the black death of the 21st century — Covid-19. Although at the forefront we see as effects of the pandemic major economic losses and mental health problems, in the background looms the worsening refugee crisis.

While many wished that the Covid-19 pandemic would ease international tensions, the globe witnessed instead the worsening of existing multiple conflicts and the unfolding of new ones.

Indeed, the pandemic has had a huge impact on the refugee community as lockdowns increased displacement and limited opportunities for work and resettlement.

As the borders begin to re-open early this year, the Philippine government strengthened its commitment to upholding its humanitarian tradition of extending international protection to those who have been forced to flee, with the issuance by former President Duterte of Executive Order 163 on 28 February 2022.

To fully avail of such protection, a refugee must first undergo a refugee status determination procedure under Department Circular 058, Series of 2012 of the Department of Justice by submitting an application before the Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit or the central office or any field office of the Bureau of Immigration in the port of entry/admission of the applicant refugee.

To be submitted with the application are the refugee applicant’s travel document, identification document including proof of relationship to any accompanying family members, and such other documents to support the claim to refugee, where available.

Following the receipt of the application, any proceeding for the deportation or exclusion of the refugee applicant and/or his or her dependents shall be suspended. If the refugee applicant or his or her dependents is/are in detention, the Secretary of Justice may direct the Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration to order his or her and/or their release.

The responsibility of proving a claim for refugee status is a shared and collaborative burden between the refugee applicant and the Protection Officer who evaluates the claim of the refugee applicant and his/her eligibility for protection. The refugee applicant has the right to legal counsel and is entitled to have the services of an interpreter, if necessary, at all stages of the refugee status determination.

After an interview where evidence, oral and/or documentary, are received, the Secretary of Justice shall render a written decision on the application. In case the application is disapproved, the refugee applicant may request only one reconsideration of the decision. Where the application is denied with finality, the refugee applicant shall be afforded sufficient time to leave the country unless he/she holds another immigration status.

In case the application is granted, the RSPPU shall notify the Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration of the same. The benefits of recognition, as appropriate, shall automatically inure to the accompanying family members.

Refugees including their family members have the right to residence. They are entitled to the appropriate visas and such other immigration documents appurtenant thereto as may be provided by immigration laws and regulations. No renewal of visa shall be allowed by the Bureau of Immigration without the endorsement of the RSPPU.

Refugees may enjoy and exercise such rights and privileges accorded by the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Minor applicants shall be referred to the appropriate government agencies and/or non-government agencies and/or non-government organizations for their care, welfare, and access to legal services including the filing of the appropriate application.

The refugee status shall be revoked where recognition has been obtained through intentional misrepresentation of material facts. A refugee may be removed from the Philippine territory (a) where he or she has been convicted with finality of a serious offense and is considered a danger to the community after having served his or her sentence, or (b) on grounds of national security or public order.

The expulsion shall only be in pursuance of a decision reached by due process of law. Except where compelling reasons of national security require, the refugee or stateless person shall be allowed to submit evidence to clear himself or herself and to appeal and be represented by legal counsel for that purpose before a competent authority.

The refugee or stateless person subject to removal shall be allowed a reasonable period within which to seek admission into another country.

For refugees who were granted refugee status and later want to be naturalized Filipinos, the Philippines Supreme Court approved in March of this year the Rule on Facilitated Naturalization of Refugees and Stateless Persons which streamlined the judicial naturalization process for refugees and stateless persons.

For more of Dean Nilo Divina’s legal tidbits, please visit For comments and questions, please send an email to