Surigao solon pushes passage of ‘bakwits’ bill

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/26 October)—Surigao del Norte Rep. Guillermo Romarate (2nd district), chair of the House Committee on Human Rights, has pushed the passage of a bill for “bakwits” or internally displaced persons (IDPs).

During the proposed measure’s first committee hearing last October 22, he urged his colleagues to support the bill that seeks “to protect and support” those who were displaced by armed conflicts and calamities.

Among those who attended the meeting were top officials of the Commission on Human Rights, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Department of Justice, non-government organizations and representatives from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR).

He said there’s a need to “create a dynamic environment where all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, endowed as they are, with reason and conscience and to move them to act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Romarate said the proposed law, under House Bills (HB) 239 and 2247, shall be called “An Act Protecting the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof and for other Purposes.”

To further study the measure, Romarate said the committee agreed to visit on November 20-21 the evacuations centers in Zamboanga City, which was attacked by Moro National Liberation Front members loyal to founding chair Nur Misuari. The standoff displaced tens of thousands of residents.

The committee also agreed to visit Bohol province, which was devastated by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake recently, in a yet to be fixed date, he added.

Romarate said other pending priority bills before his committee include HB 1589 known as “An Act to Strengthen the Commission on Human Rights and for other Purposes” and HB 2401 entitled “An Act Establishing a National Preventive Mechanism Against Torture in the Philippines.”

Early this month, the International Displaced Monitoring Committee-Norwegian Refugee Council urged the Philippine Government to pass the law on IDPs.

Frederik Kok, senior country analyst of the Swiss-based organization, said indigenous people or Lumads in the Philippines “are the most vulnerable group of people by the armed conflicts.“

“IPs caught in the middle of the conflict between the military and the New People’s Army could hardly cope with their repeated dislocations and the accumulated effects of property loss or damage and income decline,” he said, citing a report launched last October 4 in Davao City.

The IDMC, established in 1998 by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), is an international body monitoring internal displacements worldwide.

He said that if the bill becomes a law, people affected by armed conflicts shall be compensated.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Santiago Oreta, assistant secretary at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, urged Congress to approve the bill, noting it “is among the top 10 priorities of the Aquino Administration.” (Roel Catoto/MindaNews)