By Antonio L. Colina IV
Davao City — The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has distributed 300 passports to Indonesians living in Mindanao here as part of the first phase of Indonesian government’s initiative to end statelessness.
Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi graced the ceremonial distribution of the passports to about 300 Indonesians who have been living in Balut Island, Davao Occidental without proper documents for several decades. The ceremony was held at the House of Indonesia here on Calamansi Street, Juna Subdivision in Matina on Wednesday.
Marsudi said that the distribution of passports was the first in 68 years of diplomatic relationship between Indonesia and Philippines.
Indonesia’s top diplomat said the two countries have been discussing the need to end statelessness among the Indonesians living in Mindanao, and that she was grateful that they have started with the first phase.
She said at least 2,425 have been so far confirmed as “pure” Indonesians,” while 2,074 are mixed Indonesian and Filipino out of the 8,745 registered in a mapping process conducted in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2011.
“It’s very basic right of every person to get their status of nationality… Being stateless always brings risks because they do not know who will protect them,” she said.
The UNHCR said people face the risk of statelessness due to “unclear nationality status passed on across generations” and may have no access to basic rights such as health care, education, and employment.
Marsudi said acquiring a citizenship allows the Indonesian government to protect their citizens living abroad, this being the priority of Indonesian government’s foreign policy while, at the same time, emphasized to their citizens to respect laws of the country where they live.
She added they found difficulty in the registration of persons of Indonesians descent as most of them were born and are residing in the Philippines for several decades.
Merriam Faith Palma, who is in-charge of the statelessness project of the UNHCR, said it was important for persons of Indonesian descent (PIDs) to acquire passports to “prove their identity.”
She said citizenship was not necessarily indicated in the birth certificate unlike in the passport, which also allows them freedom of travel “on legal channel.”
Marsudi added the cooperation program was a follow-up to the discussion of foreign ministers during the 50th ASEAN Summit in Manila on November 12, 2017 after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo agreed to strengthen cooperation between the two countries.
During the launch of the Davao-General Santos-Bitung sea connectivity last April 30, Widodo became the second head of state to visit Davao City where Duterte served as mayor for 22 years.
On January 13 last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the city where he was taken on a quick tour in his house in Dona Luisa Subdivision in Matina, Davao City.