Philippines passes historic bill to protect internally displaced

News Stories, 8 February 2013

© UNHCR/K.L.Eleazar
These displaced people in northern Mindanao were first affected by armed conflict, then uprooted by flooding when Tropical Storm Washi hit in late 2011.

MANILA, the Philippines, February 8 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday lauded the Philippines' Congress for passing a bill that seeks to protect the rights of more than 1 million internally displaced people (IDP) in the country.

The bill adopted on Wednesday will become law when it is signed by President Benigno Aquino III, making the Philippines the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to have comprehensive legislation that protects people against arbitrary displacement and guarantees the rights of the internally displaced in accordance with international standards, particularly the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR sees this bill as model example for other countries.

UNHCR praised the measure as a milestone for the protection of internally displaced people in the Philippines, where decades-long armed conflicts and many natural disasters have caused massive displacement, especially in the southern island group of Mindanao. It is estimated that there are still some 300,000 people displaced throughout Mindanao.

"For the first time, we will have a specific law in the region that can make a difference in the lives of people who have fled and run for their lives due to conflict and disaster," said Bernard Kerblat, UNHCR's representative in the Philippines.

"We trust that the Philippines will carry on this good work of rebuilding the lives of the displaced as the bill establishes a system to protect people and give them assistance. We hope, too, that other countries in the region will follow suit," he added.

Natural disasters causing displacement are frequent occurrences in the Philippines. Most recently, in early December, Typhoon Bopha, left more than 1,000 people dead, affected 6.2 million people and displaced close to 1 million. Thousands of them remain homeless and are in need of humanitarian and other assistance in southern Mindanao.

The bill seeks to prevent displacement, and spells out rights during and after displacement. It also imposes heavy penalties against arbitrary internal displacement of any person, including non-combatants caught in the crossfire of internal armed conflicts.

It also spells out key rights of IDPs during and after displacement, emphasizing that displacement should not violate anyone's rights to life, liberty, dignity and security. The bill also importantly provides for monetary compensation for lost or damaged property or for the death of family members. The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, an independent agency of the state, has been designated as the focal point for the protection of displaced people.

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