Manila – How "inclusive" and "pro-people" is ASEAN, as it marks its 50th anniversary this year? The question was raised at the weekend after immigration authorities from host country Philippines detained for nearly 12 hours four East Timorese nationals who flew in to attend the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples Forum (ACSC/APF).
Reasons given by officials for holding them at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3: inability to explain fully [explain] the purpose of their visit and lack of visible financial means for their stay.
Fortunately, the issue was cleared and the four East Timorese were released, after the intervention of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente himself and presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza.
Still, while it allowed the delegates to join their comrades in the civil society meetings at 6pm Saturday, the Bureau of Immigration kept the four delegates' passports for "safekeeping" pending the issuance of a "Recall of Exclusion Order" or REO.
According to a press release from the local organizers of the civil-society forum, the BI allowed the delegates' entry to the Philippines after they verified during negotiations with the organizers and lawyers of the ACSC/APF that the Timor Leste nationals are indeed participating in the civil-society ASEAN assemblies organized by the group.
The official reasons cited for the "exclusion order" were: "not able to explain the purpose of their travel" and "not able to establish financial capacity for their visit."
The ACSC/APF legal team is assisting the Timorese nationals and is working out the issuance of the REO in order for their passports to be released by Monday.
Members of the ACSC/APF National Organizing Committee (NOC) expressed appreciation for the favorable intervention of BI Commissioner Morente, and the assistance of Dureza. They are pleased that the Timorese delegates are no longer detained and are now out of the airport.
However, the NOC said that while it understands the more stringent security measures being implemented due to the upcoming ASEAN summit, it worried over the possibility of similar incidents when more participants from other countries arrive in the coming days. The organizers said they "hope that this recent incident will not happen to other foreign delegates to the ACSC/APF."
In a statement, the ACSC/APF said it "regards the participation of foreign delegates in the civil society-led ASEAN forums as crucial in the meaningful intervention of social movements and sectoral groups from Southeast Asia towards forging a socially-responsive ASEAN."
The ACSC/APF has been engaging and recognized by the ASEAN as a civil society platform since its inception at the ASEAN summit in 2005 in Malaysia. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) have been regularly in touch with the ACSC/APF in the run-up to the summit.