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Expert Opinion

IDMC lauds the Philippines for landmark bill on human rights

Our colleague Justin Ginnetti, Policy and Research Advisor, was quoted last week in the Philippine Star as saying, ‘‘Filipinos are disproportionately affected by [natural] hazards as compared to other nations with comparable populations exposed to similar hazards.” Author of IDMC’s recent report on displacement due to natural disasters in the Philippines, Justin found that Filipinos living below the poverty line suffer the most from natural disasters, and much more so than in other countries due to socioeconomic vulnerabilities and a high level of disaster risk – to put this into context, Justin calculated that if two equally intense cyclones hit both the Philippines and Japan, 17 times more Filipinos than Japanese would be killed.

Today the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) applauds the government of the Philippines for approving a landmark piece of legislation that will protect the rights of millions of people living in or at-risk of displacement from natural disasters and conflict.

Yesterday, the Filipino Senate approved the Act Protecting the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (Senate Bill no. 3317), a bill that once implemented, should address many of the vulnerabilities highlighted by IDMC’s work on displacement in the Philippines. This piece of legislation represents the first of its kind in Asia and will help people made vulnerable by recurrent natural disasters, violence or armed conflict; it also brings attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and the specific vulnerabilities of women and girls. Once implemented, this law also sets out the role of the Philippine government and will help people displaced and at-risk of displacement to know and claim their rights.

Our colleague Frederik Kok, Senior Asia Analyst at IDMC, said; “This law is an important step in further strengthening the rights of IDPs in the Philippines. It is also significant that it recognises the importance of prevention from displacement and clearly sets out the responsibilities of the government to respond to the protection and assistance needs of IDPs. It serves as an example to other countries prone to violence and natural disasters, and a model that they could potentially adapt to their own contexts.”

A comprehensive bill that addresses both displacement due to disaster and conflict

Over the years, millions of people have been forced to flee from their homes because of flooding and landslides, mainly due to typhoons that regularly hit the region. A video released yesterday by IFRC highlights the challenges faced by people displaced by Typhoon Bhopa (Pablo), as they struggle to cope two months after the typhoon devastated the eastern part of the island of Mindanao last December, killing more than 1,000 people and causing the displacement of nearly one million people.

Added to this, millions have also been forced from their homes in the last decade because of the different armed conflicts on the island of Mindanao. Some people have languished in limbo for years; some are displaced for only a matter of days or weeks, but others have been displaced for months or longer with little prospect of finding long-term solutions. Even when they return home, many remain vulnerable to conflict and natural disasters – sometimes they are worse off than those still displaced, with little access to basic services such as education, health or clean water.

Research conducted in September 2012 across Mindanao identified over half a million people,  individuals living in displacement or who had returned home, who were still in need of humanitarian aid and help to rebuild their lives. Nearly half had been affected by armed conflict. Most were located in Maguindanao the province that has been most disrupted by conflict, where an estimated 3 out of 4 families have been forced to flee twice or more in the past ten years. The landmark IDP law approved yesterday is a milestone for the Filipino people, and a concrete step towards greater protection of displaced people as well as foresight to address vulnerabilities and disaster risk.

Next Steps

As is true for many new legal frameworks for internal displacement, such as the Kampala Convention, the challenge is now one of implementation. Rules and regulations to translate the law into concrete action will be adopted in the two months following the publication of the law. Key to its success is to ensure that the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, the body mandated under the law to become the institutional focal point on IDPs, is provided with adequate political authority and resources to carry out its new role, but also that the authorities at the local level receive the proper training and guidance to ensure they can effectively enforce this ground-breaking new law.

For more on displacement in the Philippines, see our country page

To access the full report, Disaster-induced internal displacement in the Philippines, click here

UPDATE JUNE 2013: The bill referred to in this post was vetoed by See our follow-up blog post, ''A bend in the road is not the end of the road.''