By Daniel Llanto

Malacañang welcomed the reported plan of newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden to legalize at least 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, saying that the plan will benefit many Filipinos there.

Biden will propose a law to legalize the group’s stay in the US, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque noted. “At siyempre po, may mga Pilipinong mabibenepisyo sa batas na iyan,” he told reporters in an online briefing. 

Roque also said the Philippines does not expect a change in the relations between Manila and Washington after Democrat Biden replaces Republican Donald Trump this week.

Pagdating po sa panlabas na relasyon, may continuity naman po ang Estados Unidos,” Roque said.

He refused to comment that the Duterte administration would lose an ally as Trump, who has voiced support for Duterte’s anti-narcotics drive, steps down. 

Wala po kaming comment, diyan, walang basehan iyan. Ang mayroon po tayo ay mainit at malapit na relasyon sa bansang Estados Unidos,” Roque said. 

Malacañang said there was no basis for assuming that the new US President would be tough on killings in the Philippines’ anti-narcotics drive.

Biden, 77, an ally of former US President Barack Obama who drew curses from President Rodrigo Duterte for criticizing his war on drugs, was inaugurated on January. 20.

Trump praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem”.

Duterte, for his part, regards Trump as “a good president” who “deserves to be re-elected”, according his former spokesman, Salvador Panelo, in February last year.

Duterte continued to express anti-US remarks and adopted abrogating the two countries’ Visiting Forces Agreement as policy.

In October 2016, while in China, Duterte announced his “separation” from the United States, the only treaty ally of the Philippines.

That year, Obama urged Duterte’s government to go after drug rings “the right way” because otherwise, “innocent people get hurt and you have a whole bunch of unintended consequences that don’t solve the problem.”

Obama’s supposed meeting with Duterte that year was cancelled after the Philippine leader called him a “son of a w****” and told him not to question him about extra-judicial killings. .

The government’s controversial drug war had resulted in the death of 5,980 people from July 1, 2016 until November 30, 2020, according to official data. Rights groups, however, say thousands more died in alleged extra-judicial killings.

Biden’s decision to immediately ask Congress to offer legal status to an estimated 11 million people in the US surprised advocates, given how the issue has long divided Democrats and Republicans, even within their own parties.

Biden promised to  announce this on his first few days in office to provide a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the United States illegally, according to four people briefed on his plans.

Biden campaigned on a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million people in the US illegally, but it was unclear how quickly he would move while wrestling with the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and other priorities. 

Advocates recall presidential candidate Barack Obama pledging an immigration bill in his first year in office in 2009 but not getting to the issue until his second term.

Biden’s plan is the polar opposite of Donald Trump’s, whose successful 2016 presidential campaign included stopping illegal immigration.

“This really does represent a historic shift from Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda that recognizes that all of the undocumented immigrants that are currently in the United States should be placed on a path to citizenship,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, who was briefed on the bill.

If successful, the legislation would be the biggest move toward granting status to people in the country illegally since President Ronald Reagan bestowed amnesty on nearly three million people in 1986. Legislative efforts to overhaul immigration policy failed in 2007 and 2013.

Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Biden will send an immigration bill to Congress “on his first day in office.” He didn’t elaborate and Biden’s office declined to comment on specifics.