DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 02 August) — The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, has called on legislators to include the rights of indigenous peoples (IPs) in House Bill No. 4744, a measure that seeks to protect the rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Chaloka Beyani, UN special rapporteur, made the suggestion in his report following his 10-day trip to the country, which included a visit to the Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) who have sought refuge for months now in the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) here. Bayani was in the country from July 21 to 31.
Beyani lamented how the IPs are affected by the long-standing conflicts between military forces and the New Peoples Army (NPA), eventually resulting to their displacement from their ancestral homes.
“This situation clearly demonstrates the massive and potentially irreversible impact of the ongoing conflicts on displacement of such vulnerable communities who are often caught up in the conflict and suspected of involvement with armed groups,” Beyani said in his July 31, 2015 Statement on the human rights of IDPs, on the conclusion of his 10-day visit in the country.
Beyani said Lumads’ cultures and ways of life are part of rich and diverse heritage of the country that if not protected from displacement caused by conflict or development will be “otherwise lost, perhaps forever.”
At least 700 Lumads from Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and San Fernando in Bukidnon fled their homes after they were allegedly displaced by military operations.
Last July 23, an interagency group was formed to return the Lumads to their respective areas, leading to a confrontation between Lumad leaders and law enforcers. The Lumads refused to leave, alleging militarization in their communities has not stopped.
The interagency group was composed of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and Davao City Police Office (DCPO).
Davao City Police Office (DCPO) spokesperson Senior Insp. Milgrace Driz said Mayor Rodrigo Duterte provided 10 buses and 12 trucks coming from the local goverment units where the Lumads came from.
Beyani added that the Lumads are poorly equipped to survive away from ancestral lands “and therefore deeply affected by displacement.”
“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,” he said.
Beyani noted that the Lumads stressed that they want to return to their communities but only if the military forces are pulled out and they are guaranteed “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 ongoing conflict between the AFP and the NPA,” he said.
Beyani added that existing legislations such as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) and other institutions cannot provide the IPs protection from displacement unless fully implemented in practice.
The rapporteur added that since the country has long faced the threats of disasters and effects of long-standing conflicts, it is necessary that the bill, stalled for at least a decade already, be passed.
In his statement, he discussed that the measure has been adopted in 2013 but was vetoed by President Benigno Aquino III allegedly on the grounds of unconstitutionality that need 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 without further delay,” he added.
“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,” he said.
If passed into law, he said the measure will set a clear cut provisions on the rights of internally displaced individuals.
“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,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/ MindaNews)