Our students in Philippines - Solomon Star News

Our students in Philippines

19 September 2020
June 2020, PNG students holding ‘Thank You’ posters for their Prime Minister. The PNG Prime Minister used his Emergency Powers and sent many government funded flights to collect his citizens from Philippines – Manila lockdown did not stop PNG doing the right thing for their students. [Photo Source: EMTV]

I spent some of yesterday (Wednesday) with the families of the students stuck in Philippines.Their stories are heart-breaking and it was very distressing seeing the pain in the faces of the families. 

I then came home and read on Facebook the well written statement by Mr Doug Marau who Mr Douglas Marau who is the Assistant Press Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

At first read the explanation from the Prime Minister’s Office seems reasonable. But upon further inspection it becomes apparent that it is more of the ‘Business as Usual – Nothing Accomplished factor, from the PMO. 

By simply phone calling other countries’ Foreign Affairs departments, internet searches, speaking to international airline companies and contacting friends in the Pacific the truth is revealed. 

And the truth is different from what Mr Marau has written. 

Let’s look at his first statement: 

“As early as April this year the government, through the Oversight Committee sought advice and recommendations from the respective institutions on whether or not it should repatriate students. The advice given had been consistently not to repatriate.” 

On 27th March and again in July the Governor General, on the advice from the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, granted Emergency Powers to the Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, These Emergency Powers, as we were told by government, are to enable the Prime Minister to make decisions himself and avoid having to deal with Parliament, Ministries as to the some of the normal processes. 

The Prime Minister cannot claim to need Emergency Powers (which fully and solely sit directly with him – no one else) and then start blaming other “institutions” or even the Oversight Committee. What use are the Emergency Powers if the Prime Minister is still going to blame other arms of government or as Mr Marau says: “the respective institutions”.

Now let’s look at Mr Marau’s next statement: 

“The government of Philippines… implemented extremely strict border control, not allowing any foreign aircraft to enter Manila to repatriate any foreign nationals from March until late July 2020.”

The Philippines Government allowed flights to enter many of their airports to collect foreigners except for just one week, from 2nd to 9th May. In fact the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte made express regulations under his own Emergency Laws to ensure their foreigners could leave the country through air travel. This was done to reduce the pressure on their hospital system. 

And so yet another of Mr Marau’s statements of: 

“With the lock downs, we could not have repatriated the students any earlier.” 

This does not seem truthful to me.  In fact, it is just false. 

The PNG Government provided many government funded flights to the Philippines collecting some of their students during May and June. Also, in April and June, many Fijians, New-Caledonians and Ni-Vanuatus were repatriated from Philippines on flights from Manila. 

Let’s read again what Mr Marau, who works for the Prime Minister, wrote to all of us on Wednesday:

“With the lock-downs, we could not have repatriated the students any earlier.” 

Yes, I also, like you, feel sick in the stomach reading this –Iumi feel sick because we are realising how poorly our government is treating us, especially when it is to do with life and death of our citizens. 

Then I caught up on some facebook and saw the speech by the Prime Minister who announced that there are more COVID infections of the students stuck in Philippines. As the Prime Minister’s speech went on I realise that part of what he was saying is exactly what was written by Mr Marau. 

I start to feel even more sick as my own Prime Minister is looking into the eyes of us all through the TV camera telling half-truth information about our children stuck in a foreign land.

The Prime Minister ended his speech by repeatedly warning all of the media and journalists to get their facts right and to work to their “code of ethics”.

I wish to quote a text; 2 Timothy 3:1 “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 

 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, unholy.”

So considering the information we have been told and the Prime Minister’s demand for accountability in the media, my question at this point is, will Mr Marau resign from Vice Presidency of the Media Association of Solomon Islands? It will be interesting to see if he does the right and honourable thing or will he and MASI just brush this under the carpet and they become like another of our corrupt government institutions when ministers refuses to resign even though it is clear they are breaking the law. Hopefully MASI is better than that. 

On that note - if I may suggest that MASI needs to relook at its constitution so that Press officers or Public Relations officers etc. do NOT hold office in MASI. Holding office as executive of MASI should only be for working journalists who will not compromise their position. 

That is how it is in many media associations around the world where no one outside of the mainstream media is allowed to hold executive positions for obvious reasons like what has occurred between Mr Marau and the PMO this week. That should be something the new president Georgina Kekea should now look at since taking office.

As to our government trying to blame the students for having problems with their passports and visas and also blaming the Philippines Government, that is just so offensive to the families, the students and to all us who are praying for their safety. Why do we bother have a Ministry of Foreign Affairs if they cannot organise these matters for us when we are overseas and in times of emergencies. 

Yes, I agree it is not easy but that is the job of Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

It is like the fireman saying he could not extinguish the fire of the burning house because he ran out of water as he used all the water for gardens belonging to Chinese visitors and diplomats. 

It seems to me that the Executive of our Government made the Ministry of Foreign Affairs too much focus on organising travel and visa for the 83 Chinese instead of caring for our own sons and daughters in Philippines. 

What about our Honiara based Philippine Consul, (or possibly he is now former consul), Mr Johnny Sy? For some reason Prime Minister Sogavare praised him again in his speech. This person was also praised in PM Sogavare’s Independence Day speech. 

Let’s not forget that two months ago SIPA spent millions of our dollars on a new flag pole and then our government led by the Prime Minister spent much time promoting it –  all at the same time while the students were in desperate need of financial assistance and they were waiting for us to send them our Sol Air aeroplane which was resting in Brisbane doing nothing. 

I, however do agree with one statement by Mr Marau and PM Sogavare: 

“Let us continue to pray for and support our students, their parents, and families, and also support each other.”

Prime Minister, we now call upon you to act immediately and in the best interests of our students. If you are unable to immediately repatriate those suffering from the effects of COVID and give them the appropriate medical treatment when they arrive home, then you need to provide financial assistance for food, accommodation and also counselling to help them go through the most difficult times in their lives while away from their families. 

If you cannot do this I ask you to seriously reconsider whether it is in the nations interests for you to be maintaining Emergency Powers – we can revert to normal functioning of government if you are unable to take action. 

By Wendy Amangongo