Nafcon National Alliance for Filipino Concerns
April 22, 2018
Filipinos Disappointed Over San Francisco Philippine Consulate’s Grossly Inadequate Response to Ensure Jerome Aba’s Safety
Filipino Muslim youth activist Jerome Aba was detained by US immigration officials at SFO for 28 hours before being deported back to the Philippines on April 19 at 12:30 am. In a press conference with human rights group Karapatan on April 21 in Manila, Aba recounted the inhumane and cruel treatment he experienced, including physical and psychological torture, violation of his rights to access a lawyer, and utter disrespect of his religion.
The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) holds the Philippine government accountable for gross neglect of Jerome Aba.
NAFCON reached out to the San Francisco Philippine Consulate via phone on April 18, Wednesday morning, demanding assistance for Aba after being held incommunicado by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents for 14 hours. The Consulate had no sense of urgency even after we reiterated multiple times that his lawyer and friends in San Francisco were very concerned about Aba’s safety since we had not heard from him and were unsure if CBP informed him of his rights. “We have not received any official letter from CBP about Jerome. We are sure they will inform him of his rights!” a Consulate official frustratedly answered us during the phone call. We emphasized that the Consulate has the responsibility to contact CBP to ensure Aba is safe and has access to his lawyer.
At around 2 PM, 17 hours into Aba’s detention, the Consulate texted, “Per CBP, Mr. Aba is still with them, treated well and has been fed. No info on return flight yet. We also received official letter from CBP.”
NAFCON insisted on the urgency of the situation, telling the Consulate not to believe CBP since Aba has not had contact with his lawyer and friends — a basic right denied of him–so there was no substantiation of the CBPs claim that Aba was “treated well”. The Philippine Consulate readily believed the CBP’s lies and would not even inquire as to the reason of his “inadmissibility” to the US despite being granted a 10-year multiple entry visa.
Sensing that the Consulate would not assert Aba’s rights to access a lawyer, a delegation composed of NAFCON members and supporters decided to go to the Consulate office in person to further pressure them to act to protect and stand for Aba. Our delegation refuted the CBP’s claim to the Consulate that Aba already had contact with his colleagues in the US. We pressured the Consulate to contact the CBP once again as we warned that protests in the San Francisco airport and even nationally are only to grow if Aba is not safely released.
After multiple calls from the Consulate, the CBP finally allowed the Consulate to talk to Aba. This was the first time Aba was able to talk to anyone after more than 20 hours of being held incommunicado. During the short call with Aba, we knew that CBP officials were listening next to him as Aba hesitantly said “they are still with me” when we asked if he was alone.
Now we know about the cruel treatment of Aba during those 28 hours of detention.
We are enraged by the utter neglect shown by Philippine Consulate officials. They told our delegation that being denied entry to the USA is a “normal” thing as they frequently receive letters from CBP when Filipinos are deported back home. We had to emphasize that being held incommunicado for long hours is illegal, and that they had to take action. These are now our questions:
“How many Filipinos are harassed, unnecessarily questioned, without knowledge of their rights, while the Philippine Consulate merely accepts CBP’s letters that these Filipinos are ‘inadmissible’ to the US? Where is the accountability of the Philippine government to make sure its citizens are safe and their human rights not violated? How frequent do Filipino nationals experience rights violations without any concern from the Philippine government? How many cases do we not hear about?
“Why does the Philippine Consulate defer to the CBP as if the diplomatic relations between the US and the Philippines are not equal? In the case of Aba, why did the Philippine government not assert Aba’s right to access a lawyer? Why did they parrot the lies of the CBP that Aba was ‘treated well’ when instead he was being tortured? Why did the Consulate go as far as defending the CBP, saying it was sure the CBP would inform Aba of his rights?”
The Duterte government must answer to this. A Filipino national suffered in the hands of US Homeland Security officials while Philippine Consulate officials had to be pressured to do their job and try to contact Aba and ensure his safety. Jerome Aba deserves justice and that includes accountability from the Philippine government to protect him no matter where he is.
Reference: Terrence Valen, NAFCON President, email@example.com, 1-415-203-0696