By JAKE SORIANO
A visiting United Nations envoy has urged Philippine lawmakers to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) “as urgently as possible,” saying failure to do so would lead to further violence in the region where “displacement has become the pattern of life” for many.
“A viable, inclusive and comprehensive peace process is essential to removing the causes of displacement and to stabilizing the situation in the region,” Chaloka Beyani, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), said in a statement issued at the end of his 10-day official visit to the country.
He said adoption of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, intended to establish the Bangsamoro political entity in the country and replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, will help address internal displacement.
Beyani reiterated his call during a news conference last Friday in Makati. “Passing the basic law in relation to the Bangsamoro region…is a major effort that people in Mindanao are looking forward to.”
“And so the appeal here is to the Congress, the Senate, to pass this law as urgently as possible,” he told reporters.
“If it is not passed, our experience and estimation is that it will lead to further outbreaks of violence and fighting, as confidence will have broken down on both sides.”
“For many in the region, displacement has become the pattern of life,” the UN envoy said.
Lawmakers from both the Senate and the House are pushing for major revisions in the original BBL which the administration was hoping to implement before the end of its term next year.
Several days prior, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III in his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) himself urged Congress to pass the BBL within his term.
The BBL is a crucial piece of legislation in the Bangsamoro peace process, which aims to achieve genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao. Advocates, however, say the current form of the bill is not in accordance with the peace deal signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. (See Beyond Mamasapano: Tough road still ahead for Bangsamoro peace)
Disparity in responses
The UN Special Rapporteur was in the Philippines from July 21-31 to assess the situation of internally displaced communities as a result of disasters, armed conflict, and development projects like mining.
In his statement, Beyani noted the inconsistency in the government’s response to conflict-induced displacements in the restive south and its handling of those displaced by disasters such as typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) that battered central Visayas in 2013.
“I was struck by the disparity between the permanent housing established in Tacloban and that of Zamboanga. It is essential that the Government ensures that (it) provides equitable and comparable permanent housing as a component of durable solutions for all IDPs across the country,” he said.
In Zamboanga City, some 100,000 residents were displaced by the standoff between the Philippine armed forces and the Nur Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in September 2013.
Some 13,000 persons were evacuated to the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex, which for more than a year became the biggest temporary shelter in the city.
Local anti-trafficking groups have later uncovered a prostitution ring in the complex. (See Prostitution ring in Zambo evacuation center exposed)
It was closed only last month, its evacuees transferred to transitory sites in several locations in the city. A ceremonial decommissioning of the complex was held on July 20, presided by Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco and social welfare secretary Dinky Soliman.
“This is a product of careful consultation, coordination, due respect to human dignity, and also the sincere effort of the local government to ensure that the safety of all is priority,” said Climaco.
Soliman said the DSWD supports the decision of the local government. “Bukas na bukas, meron ng cash for work na ibibigay para linisin ang grandstand (Tomorrow, there will be cash for work for the cleaning of the complex),” she said.
While noting some progress towards providing durable solutions for some displaced communities, Beyani, however, expressed concern over the closure of the sports complex.
He said it was done “without ensuring adequate housing solutions for some families who did not want to move to transitional shelter and wished to return to their original locations.”
He called Mampang, the main transitory site where families in the complex have been relocated, “problematic on many levels,” and said it must not be considered a long-term solution for the displaced.
“It lacks adequate provision of water, electricity, adequate access to essential and basic services including health care and education,” he noted.
4 in 5 households affected by displacement in Maguindanao
In Maguindanao, meanwhile, the military offensive this year against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) after Mamasapano, has displaced more than 125,000 people.
This was only the latest in the continuing waves of displacement in Maguindanao from the all-out war of the Estrada administration which had already affected millions.
“Displacement has affected four out of five households in Maguindanao,” said lawyer Laisa Alamia, executive secretary of the ARMM Office of the Regional Governor, during a forum last week in Cotabato.
Close to a million persons were displaced during the 2000 Estrada war; about 400,000 during operations in the Buliok Complex in 2003; and more than 700,000 in 2008 in the aftermath of the aborted Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).
Many victims of human trafficking and gender-based violence are displaced persons from the province, Alamia said. (See Maguindanao ‘bakwits’ vulnerable to trafficking)
“Some described the situation as a ‘forgotten crisis’ and noted the frequency and nature of the displacement and that responses by both national and regional government authorities were routinely inadequate,” said Beyani in the statement.
Besides pushing for passage of the BBL, the UN special rapporteur also urged the Philippine government to enact a law protecting the rights of IDPs.
“Previously adopted in 2013, a version of the draft law was subsequently vetoed by the President on the grounds of some elements being unconstitutional or requiring further clarification,” said Beyani.
“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 said.
For the Philippines, which is both prone to disasters and enduring the effects of long-standing conflicts, it is particularly important to enshrine the rights of IDPs in domestic law, Beyani stated.
“Not to do so sends a wrong signal about the commitment of the Government to ensuring the rights of IDPs.”