“The removal and detention of homeless and impoverished residents from where they live and work without due process is a violation of their basic human rights.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
RIZAL PARK, Manila – He did not want to divulge his real name. When asked for his name, he said people there refer to him as BB.
BB, 41, is among those rounded up by Philippine authorities in preparation for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit currently taking place at the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex in Pasay City. He was brought to the Manila Boystown Complex in Marikina City.
“I jumped the fence to escape,” he told Bulatlat.com.
This reporter chanced upon BB and several others resting at the Rizal Park today, Nov. 18. While conditions are harsh – with the strong rains at noon time – all of them prefer to reside in the park than the Boystown, where, BB said, they were given food “not fit for human consumption.”
Another street dweller, Bartolome, 38, said he sustained a bump on his forehead when he was dragged to a big vehicle that led them to the Boystown facility. Like BB, he said he chose to escape and return to the streets where they could at times land part-time work as construction workers and sustain their daily needs through various feeding programs, especially from religious groups and charitable individuals.
Yesterday, Nov. 17, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada visited the street dwellers. He denied before the media that they are hiding street dwellers from the delegates of APEC, adding that the program has long been implemented by the local government. But in a news report, he admitted that they intensified the rounding up of street dwellers because it is “embarrassing” to “foreign visitors.”
In an earlier statement, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the Philippine government to immediately release the indigent and homeless residents. The rounding up began on Nov. 9, the group said.
“The removal and detention of homeless and impoverished residents from where they live and work without due process is a violation of their basic human rights,” Phelim Kine, HRW deputy Asia director, said.
The international human rights group noted that this is not the first time that the Philippine government hid the country’s poor and homeless during international events. During Pope Francis’ visit in January, the DSWD also forced families out of the streets and transported them to a resort in Batangas, where they supposedly received “trainings.”
HRW reminded the Philippine government that it is a signatory to various human rights treaties, such as the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights that prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The country is also signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.
Meanwhile, urban poor group Kadamay said they are studying possible legal charges against President Aquino for the rounding up of homeless families and their illegal detention at the Boystown facility. The group said street dwellers expressed how they were deceived and forced into accepting the government’s so-called Modified Conditional Cash Transfer program.
“The presence of street dwellers in the streets of the nation’s capital city, including the ‘illegal’ street vendors is a clear manifestation of the failure, not only of the Aquino administration, but also of APEC, to address unemployment and poverty in the country,” said Gloria Arellano, Kadamay national chairperson.
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers Secretary General Edre Olalia told Bulatlat.com that the government had no authority to round up street dwellers and prevent their freedom of movement.
“Technically, any deprivation of liberty, forcibly and against their will and consent, and without due process of law, is illegal detention,” he said.
Olalia added that street dwellers may file administrative, civil and criminal charges against public officials involved. He added that they may also seek complaints and communications before United Nations treaty-monitoring bodies and mechanisms, and before the Joint Monitoring Committee of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
He added, “We condemn the Philippine government’s treatment of the homeless as dirt being swept under the rug and eyesores being removed from the plain view of the rich and the powerful, and of Filipinos in general as second class citizens in their own country.”