“We are two different entities that looked into the same picture and drew the same conclusions.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Human rights group Karapatan said the statement issued by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (UN SRHRIDP) should be grounds to compel the military to pull out their troops in mining-affected communities that has displaced thousands of indigenous peoples from their ancestral domains.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the initial statement by UN SRHRIDP Chaloka Beyani “boosts the people’s legitimate demand for the AFP to pull out of the communities.”
Beyani visited the country from July 21 to 31. He visited several communities hit by Typhoon Haiyan back in 2013, a Moro community affected by the Zamboanga siege in 2013 and the indigenous peoples displaced from their homes to pave the way for mining companies in Mindanao.
He said that “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.”
“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,” Beyani said.
Displacement due to mining
Beyani visited mining-affected communities in Koronadal and Tampakan in South Cotabato where over 5,000 individuals, mostly indigenous peoples, are threatened to be displaced due to a looming open-pit mining project. The Tampakan gold-copper project is at the exploratory stage, but Beyani said indigenous communities expressed fear that it would eventually proceed.
The UN special rapporteur said indigenous peoples are not given priority as indicated in the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA).
“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,” he added.
Under President Aquino, human rights group Karapatan documented 61 indigenous peoples killed and one victim of enforced disappearance.
Apart from mining companies, Beyani noted that at least 700 indigenous peoples are currently seeking refuge at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) due to the long-standing conflict between government troops and the New People’s Army.
He said indigenous peoples made it clear that it is the Philippine Army and paramilitary groups that continue “to create anxiety amongst the indigenous communities.” He added that indigenous peoples want to return to their land but will only do so if the long-term militarization would end as 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,” Beyani said, adding that the government should address the causes of displacement “whether it be due to the militarization of their areas or due to development projects.”
Beyani hailed the “Build-Back-Better” rehabilitation project as a means to “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.” But he added that significant challenges have yet to be resolved.
“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,” Beyani’s initial report read.
He added that affected families residing in both temporary and permanent housing, “the provision of water, adequate sanitation and electricity remain seriously problematic.”
Beyani acknowledged that there is lack of consultation with displaced families, and cooperation between the national and local governments for infrastructure projects, and durable solutions.
“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,” he said.
Dr. Elfleda Bautista of People’s Surge, a group of Typhoon Haiyan survivors, said she is very happy with the results of the UN report even if their group did not have the opportunity to have a dialogue with Beyani during his visit in the province.
“We are two different entities that looked into the same picture and drew the same conclusions,” Bautista told Bulatlat.com, adding that the Beyani’s report validated what their group has long said.
Bautista said the UN special rapporteur’s report “exposed the truth that was being hidden from the public.”
Bekani also looked into the situation of more than 120,000 displaced persons due to the 2013 clash between the Moro National Liberation Front and government troops. He said he visited several transitional settlements and newly-constructed permanent housing.
With the closure of the evacuation center at the Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex in Zamboanga City, where families have been staying for two years, many have nowhere else to go, especially with the designation of “no-build” and “no-return” areas. Beyani said the main transitional site of Mampang “is problematic on many levels” as it has inadequate provision for electricity and basic social services such as health care and education.
Affected families also expressed difficulties in their access to livelihood due to the “considerable distance” of the city to the relocation site.
“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,” Beyani said.
He noted that there are families who lost their homes to the military operations. Though they are already back in their homes, Beyani said the government has yet to provide support to rebuild their homes or for their fishing and seaweed farming livelihoods.
Beyani said that a “viable, inclusive and comprehensive peace process” is needed to put a stop to displacement in the area. The Bangsamoro Basic Law, which has been pending since the botched police operation last Jan. 25, “may also assist” in what he referred to as a “forgotten crisis.”