Crucial points

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Sunday, August 24, 2014


ELEVEN months after the Zamboanga humanitarian crisis, 17,840 people who are still in evacuation centers have to live with the lack of clean water, adequate and nutritious food, hygiene facilities, health services and pyscho social support. Authorities recorded more than 100 people-mostly children and infants-to have died from mostly preventable diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea and measles.

The City Government has prohibited evacuees from returning to their area of residence by declaring the area as a "no build zone." Without benefit of consultation, residents were barred from returning to their communities, and reconstructing their lives.

The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement provide that "states are under a particular obligation to protect against the displacement of indigenous peoples, minorities, peasants, pastoralists and other groups with a special dependency or an attachment to their lands."

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The arrogance and lack of cultural sensitivity of the local government continue to put at risk the displaced children, including those that had already been moved to transitional site without clear support.

This wanton disregard of the constitutional protection and international standards on internally displaced persons to rebuilding their homes have systematically displaced thousands of Badjao families, an area that could have been taken seriously by the National Government.

If there is something that needs to be looked into, it is on the policies that seriously disregard constitutional protection and international standards on internally displaced persons. Article 13, section 10 of the Philippine Constitution prohibits resettlement without adequate consultation.

On the other hand, the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement also call upon governments to provide protection for displaced persons, among others, by ensuring free and informed consent of those to be displaced.

Instead, residents were simply barred.

The City has declared the area of the two villages a "no build zone" as a means to protect the areas' mangrove forests. The city justifies this decision by citing the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, which prohibits settlement in areas that have "unique physical and biological significance" that should be "protected against destructive human exploitation."

This was later thwarted by the clarification issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau that the Nipas law did not necessarily forbid human settlement in the protected areas.

Nipas law did not necessarily forbid human settlement in protected areas. Republic Act No. 7586, or the Nipas law, defines "tenured migrant communities" as those "which have actually and continuously occupied such areas for five years before the designation of the same as protected areas in accordance with [this law] and are solely dependent therein for subsistence."

It may do well for government officials to be reminded on the interconnection of the Badjaos with the the coastal area. The law states that communities must enjoy protection even within protected areas, along with "indigenous cultural communities," referring to "a group of people sharing common bonds of language, customs, traditions and other distinctive cultural traits and who have since time immemorial, occupied, possessed and utilized a territory."

Interestingly, the Zamboanga City Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction plan designates the affected villages for the construction of buildings and infrastructures, including a base for the Philippine Navy, among others.

Should the government find the political will to engage the communities in drafting appropriate response in rebuilding their lives, and even on meeting their needs while in the evacuation centers, it would have done the crucial part.

Email comments to role dan@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 25, 2014.

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