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Statement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, on the conclusion of his official visit to the Philippines, 21 to 31 July 2015

31 July 2015

At the invitation of the Government of the Philippines I conducted an official visit between 21 and 31 July 2015. At the outset I would like to sincerely thank the Government of the Philippines for its cooperation with my mandate during the preparation and conduct of my visit. The following statement represents only my preliminary findings based on my ten day visit and wide consultations with different stakeholders, both governmental and non-governmental, including internally displaced persons themselves and some indigenous peoples at risk of displacement in different regions of the country. I would like to begin my comments by saying that no country can be fully prepared for the devastating impact of a disaster such as Typhoon Haiyan and the tragic loss of life and property that accompanied it. I offer my sincere condolences to the Government and to the people of the Philippines. My visit allowed me to witness first-hand the extraordinary efforts to rebuild devastated communities as well as the resilience of displaced persons which offers an example to us all.

The Government has much to be commended for with regard to its responses to Typhoon Haiyan. It has shown leadership and put in place institutional and policy structures and frameworks that have proved to be effective in the immediate crisis response period and as the national and local authorities and displaced persons alike began the difficult process of rebuilding shattered lives either in their former places of origin or in new displacement locations. Through this difficult and challenging time the Philippines has developed much valuable experience to share with the international community and with specific States in all regions that may be affected by similar crises. This experience can benefit us all as we collectively seek to strengthen our ability to prevent and respond to the effects of climate change related disasters that sadly seem to be ever more frequent.

Government policies, for example the ‘Build-Back-Better’ policy are designed not only to respond to disasters, but to mitigate against the effects of future climate change induced displacement in this region, which is prone to disasters. In Tacloban and Tanauan I was impressed by the efforts of the local government officials and with some of the transitional and permanent housing solutions that have been put in place and that recognize the need for IDPs to have good quality and appropriate shelter and housing that also allows them to maintain their livelihoods or transition to new livelihood options. Those whom I met expressed their general satisfaction with the shelter or housing and services provided to them, including the provision of healthcare services, education for their children and support for the development of livelihood activities. I was however concerned to learn of financial constraints on authorities that have impacted on their ability to move forward towards durable solutions for all those affected and to resolve immediate issues related to adequate provision of basic services. It is essential for national and local governments to sustain and, where necessary, enhance their activities to address both immediate needs and ensure durable solutions for IDPs.

Significant challenges for IDPs remain to be resolved in areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Some people have found themselves having to relocate two or more times since their initial displacement. Many families remain housed in collective “bunkhouses” that do not meet necessary minimum standards for the provision of basic needs and services and create numerous safety and protection challenges, particularly for women and girls who face threats including sexual abuse and early pregnancy, as well as failing to provide conditions of privacy and dignity. IDPs in various areas pointed to a lack of adequate police presence which contributes to the overall feelings of increased insecurity given the nature of their shelter and conditions. Regrettably some families seem to have fallen through the protection safety net and remain living in substandard shelter in areas designated as ‘no-build’ or ‘hazardous’ due to the likelihood of future hazards. I was informed by IDPs and their representatives that, in both temporary and permanent housing, the provision of water, adequate sanitation and electricity remain seriously problematic. A common concern expressed to me was the need to increase the level of consultation and information flow to IDPs to ensure that their voices and concerns are heard and included in future planning and their rights respected.

While the Government is to be commended in terms of its immediate responses, its attention to ensuring sustainable durable solutions for IDPs remains inadequate to-date. I believe that profiling, a full needs assessment and verification exercise is required during this crucial transition period between early recovery and the attainment of durable solutions. I was concerned to learn that funding shortfalls and political challenges, including inadequate cooperation between national and local governments, are delaying processes towards achieving durable solutions. While infrastructure and public projects such as the building of flood defences in Tacloban are necessary and legitimate, the highest priority must continue to be given to securing durable housing that meet required standards and livelihood solutions for affected communities. Regrettably it appears that funding and attention to IDPs is waning. The national Government, together with its local Government partners must ensure that it follows through on the assistance that it has provided to-date to ensure that it truly meets the needs and rights of all those displaced.

The Draft Bill No. 4744 on Protecting the rights of Internally Displaced Persons has been under discussion for more than a decade and the second attempt to have it passed remains in the hands of the Senate. Previously adopted in 2013, a version of the draft law was subsequently vetoed by the President on the grounds of some elements being unconstitutional or requiring further clarification. As the technicalities concerning this proposed law seem to have been resolved, it is urgent to pass this Bill into law at the earliest opportunity witthout further delay. For the Philippines, which is both prone to disasters and enduring the effects of long-standing conflicts, it is particularly important to enshrine the rights of IDPs in domestic law. Not to do so sends a wrong signal about the commitment of the Government to ensuring the rights of IDPs, whether displaced by natural disaster, conflict or development and withholds essential legal protection from them. If passed the Bill would constitute a landmark national law, based on the UN 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and best practices. It would provide a valuable domestic legal elaboration of the rights of internally displaced persons and the primary responsibility of the Government to protect them. It would help to remove existing administrative gaps, obstacles and uncertainties and establish criminal responsibility for acts of arbitrary displacement by both State and non-State actors.

My visit was to address not only displacement caused by disasters, but also other forms of displacement around the country. In this context I visited Zamboanga in Mindanao where people remain displaced following the 2013 clash between a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and government security forces which resulted in approximately 120,000 displaced persons. I visited a number of transitional settlements as well as newly constructed permanent housing for the return of some affected communities. I note some important progress by the authorities including a Code of Beneficiaries Policy, creation of some permanent housing and progress towards durable solutions for some displaced communities. Nevertheless I am concerned by some issues including the closure of the Grandstand, where families had taken refuge after the crisis, just priort to my visit without ensuring adequate housing solutions for some families who did not want to move to transitional shelter and wished to return to their original locations. The designation of ‘no-build’ and ‘no-return’ areas on the grounds of disaster risk reduction has further restricted return to some locations.

The main transitional site of Mampang is problematic on many levels. It lacks adequate provision of water, electricity, adequate access to essential and basic services including health care and education. There are regular reports of security incidents and it is located at a considerable distance from the city and IDPs places of origin making access to livelihoods extremely difficult. For these reasons Mampang must not be considered a long-term solution for the IDPs. Permanent housing must be finalised urgently and it must be equipped with basic utilities and accessible to adequate services, security and comply with national building standards and codes. The Government must ensure that its responses do not differentiate against any displaced community on the basis of their identity or belonging to a minority community and fully respect the right to freedom of movement.

Initiatives to provide permanent housing must also take into account the wishes of IDP communities in regard to location, materials and access to livelihoods, for example access to the sea for fishing-based communities. I was informed that some indigenous fishing communities had had their homes damaged or destroyed during the military operations. While eventually being able to return to their locations, they have yet to receive support from the Government to rebuild their houses or re-establish their livelihoods in fishing and seaweed farming. Families who returned to the area of Lupa Lupa from the Grandstand are in a particularly perilous situation lacking adequate shelter and basic assistance and their needs should be immediately addressed. Equally the authorities have not recognized many families as legitimate or ‘tagged’ IDPs from conflict areas with serious implications for continuing assistance and support for those families. I urge all relevant authorities to take an inclusive approach and to ensure adequate housing, services and support for all, without discrimination.

I visited Cotabato City and had hoped to visit various areas in Maguindanao which have long been affected by conflict induced displacement. Regrettably, security issues and Government sensitivities in this region limited my access to the locations that I had wished to visit in Maguindanao. On-going conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and non-State armed groups in the region repeatedly cause both large and smaller-scale displacement. Some described the situation as a “forgotten crisis” and noted the frequency and nature of the displacement and that responses by both national and regional government authorities were routinely inadequate. For many in this region displacement has become the the pattern of life. The UN and other international actors have insufficient resources and little capacity to respond adequately to the situation in the region. A viable, inclusive and comprehensive peace process is essential to removing the causes of displacement and to stabilizing the situation in the region. Adoption of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, intended to establish the Bangsamora political entity in the country and replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, may also assist in this regard. In the meantime the humanitarian responses of the Government must be strengthened in order for IDPs to benefit from stronger assistance and protection.

Indeed it was evident to me that the Government’s response to conflict-induced displacement in locations such as Zamboanga and Cotabato differs significantly to its commendable response to disaster and climate change induced displacement elsewhere as evident in the condition of some of the transitional and permanent shelter options provided to IDPs. I was struck by the disparity between the permanent housing established in Tacloban and that of Zamboanga. It is essential that the Government ensures that the National Housing Authority provides equitable and comparable permanent housing as a component of durable solutions for all IDPs across the country.

I also visited Koronadal and Tampakan in South Cotabato Province in order to consult on an issue of potential displacement due to a proposed open-pit mining project in Tampakan. It is reported that this project would lead to the displacement of over 5000 individuals, the majority of whom are indigenous peoples, from their recognized ancestral lands if it goes ahead. The project has been put on hold by the Governor of South Cotabato and the indigenous communities expressed their fear that the project would eventually proceed despite their objections and desire to remain on their ancestral lands. They expressed frustration that consultation processes, including a process of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) had not been conducted transparently, was not fully inclusive of their chosen tribal leaders nor had it taken adequate account of their broader views and rights to the land and to the maintenance of their indigenous cultures and lifestyles. It is important to emphasize that the legitimate concerns and rights of indigenous peoples must not be side-lined but should be given the upmost priority as indicated in the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement require a threshold of "compelling and overriding public interest” in order for development-induced displacement to take place. This does not appear to be apparent in this case. I was alarmed that tribal leaders reported that their communities were consistently being manipulated and divided and that they had been harassed and received threats when they expressed their opposition. Indeed some leaders and members of the indigenous communities have been killed over the past years reportedly due to their anti-mining activities.

It was striking to me that indigenous peoples have been particularly vulnerable to conflict-induced displacement in many regions, particularly in Mindanao. For example, I am concerned by the plight of some 700 indigenous peoples currently living in basic Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) church run facilities in the city of Davao having been displaced from their ancestral homes for several months due to long-standing conflict between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA) in their region. I travelled to Davao to consult the national and local authorities and the indigenous peoples themselves on this situation. I heard from the AFP its assertion that it is seeking to protect the communities and provide services to them in conflict regions; however the displaced IPs made it clear that it is their presence and that of the paramilitary groups in their communities that continues to create anxiety amongst the indigenous communities. The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection. They described to me their concerns including their alleged forced recruitment into paramilitary groups, known as Alamara, under the auspices of the AFP and harassment in the context of the on-going conflict between the AFP and the NPA. Schools have reportedly been closed and/or occupied by the AFP or Alamara, hampering the access to education of indigenous children. While tribal leaders informed me that they are not being detained against their will at the UCCP centre in Davao, as is evident by reports of their periodic return to their communities, their current situation is neither acceptable nor sustainable. It is essential to find a rapid and peaceful solution to their situation in full consultation with their legitimate leaders, with their voluntary and secure return to their ancestral lands being a high priority. I urge the Government, in consultation with indigenous peoples themselves, to give greater attention to addressing the causes of displacement whether it be due to the militarization of their areas or due to development projects.

This situation clearly demonstrates the massive and potentially irreversible impact of the on-going conflicts on displacement of such vulnerable communities who are often caught up in the conflict and suspected of involvement with armed groups. Displacement, whether due to conflict or development, not only destroys the homes and livelihoods of indigenous peoples, but has an incalculable impact on their cultures and ways of life that are part of the rich and diverse heritage of the Philippines that must be protected or otherwise lost, perhaps forever. Indigenous peoples are poorly equipped to survive away from their ancestral lands and are therefore deeply affected by displacement. The needs of these vulnerable people must be assessed, with their full participation, so as to provide essential assistance for them, including durable solutions which are culturally sensitive and appropriate, when displacement has taken place. The displacement of such communities whose very lives and cultures are intimately entwined with their ancestral lands and environments must only be a matter of last resort. It is clear to me that existing legislation and institutions, including the exemplary Indigenous Peoples Rights Act cannot provide adequate protection from displacement unless fully implemented in practice. Specific provisions on the rights of indigenous peoples should be included in the IDP Law currently under consideration.

In conclusion I would like once again to thank the Government of the Philippines for its cooperation with my mandate. My full report and recommendations based on my visit will be presented to the Government and to the Human Rights Council at its 32nd session in June 2016. In the meantime I look forward to continuing my constructive dialogue with the Government and to identifying areas of practical engagement. I would also like to thank the United Nations Office of the Resident Coordinator, OHCHR, UNHCR, UNICEF and OCHA amongst other UN agencies for their work to facilitate my visit in all respects. I am also grateful to the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines and the many civil society organizations that provided information to me and assisted me in the course of my visit. Not least I wish to thank the many internally displaced persons and their leaders and representatives who took the time to travel and meet with me, conveying their stories, challenges and hopes for the future.