300 Indonesians living in Balut Island ‘no longer’ stateless

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 3 Jan) – Some 300 Indonesians living in Balut Island, Davao Occidental for several decades are no longer “stateless” after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs granted them passports on Wednesday as part of the first phase of the Indonesian government’s initiative to end statelessness.

Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi (left) and Consul General Berlian Napitupulu award a passport to an Indonesian resident in Balut Island, Davao Occidental during ceremonies on Wednesday (3 January 201) at the House of Indonesia in Davao City. (MindaNews photo by ANTONIO L. COLINA IV)

Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi graced the ceremonial distribution of the passports to about 300 Indonesians at the House of Indonesia here on Calamansi Street, Juna Subdivision in Matina.

Marsudi said the initiative was the first time ever for the Indonesian government to undertake after 68 years of diplomatic relationship with the Philippines.

Indonesia’s top diplomat said the two countries have been discussing the issue of putting an end to statelessness for quite some time and that she was grateful they were able to pull off the first phase of the program.

She said at least 2,425 have been so far confirmed as “pure” Indonesians and 2,074 are mixed Indonesians and Filipinos.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducted a mapping for Indonesians in 2011 during which a total of 8,754 people were registered as persons of Indonesian descent (PIDs).

“It’s a 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,” Marsudi said.

She said those PIDs with mixed Filipino blood will decide what citizenship to acquire.

Marsudi said acquiring a citizenship allows the Indonesian government to protect their citizens living abroad, this being the priority of the Indonesian government’s foreign policy while at the same time emphasized to their citizens to respect laws of the country where they live.

A report from 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 added the registration phase of PIDs was challenging as most of them were born and have been residing in the Philippines for several decades.

Merriam Faith Palma, who is in-charge of the statelessness project of the UNHCR, said it is important for PIDs to acquire passports and not just birth certificates to “prove their identity.”

She said citizenship is not necessarily indicated in the birth certificate unlike in the passport, which also allows them freedom of travel “on legal channel.”

Palma said mapping of PIDs was done in 2011 while the registration was done from 2014 to 2016.

Marsudi added the cooperation program is a follow-up to the discussion of foreign ministers during the 50th ASEAN Summit in Manila last November 12 after President Rodrigo R. Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo agreed to strengthen cooperation.

Marsudi will also meet with Duterte at the Presidential Guest House on Wednesday to thank him for the cooperation of the Philippine government in this endeavor.

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 Duterte’s house in Dona Luisa Subdivision in Matina.

Pastor Mardi Saragiti, 53, of the Indonesian Congregation-United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Balut Island, was born and raised in Balut Island but studied elementary in Kawaluso and high school in Tahuna, both in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Saragiti said he was happy and felt secured that he was granted with an Indonesian passport because he could finally visit his relatives in other parts of Indonesia without passing through that backdoor channel between Balut Island and North Sulawesi where a temporary immigration pass would be given to him.

He said his grandparents were among the early settlers of Balut Island in the 1950s from North Sulawesi.

Saragiti’s grandparents planted crops such as coconut and camote for their family to survive.

Early Indonesian settlers thought Balut Island was part of the Indonesian archipelago, he said.

Saragiti’s grandchildren study at an Indonesian-government run school in Davao City. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)