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Finding a home away from home

“…[W]hen survival is threatened, struggles erupt between peoples, and unfortunate wars between nations result,” said Hideki Tojo, former prime minister of Japan and convicted war criminal.

With more than 7 million confirmed cases, including around 400,000 deaths, the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to threaten the health, livelihood and safety of people worldwide. Nevertheless, most snubbed lockdown measures to participate in street demonstrations, which advocacies range from eradicating police brutality and racial discrimination to criticizing their governments’ responses to addressing COVID-19.

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“In short, while lockdowns and quarantines may appear to provide a timely respite to besieged governments, protesters are adapting and evolving,” said Thomas Carothers, vice president for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “With the pandemic inflicting severe economic pain in countries around the world and brutally exposing governance failures, the numbers of unsettled and angry citizens are on track to rise rather than fall.”

While similar protests have not infiltrated the streets of the Philippines, unease remains, with Filipinos resorting to social media to make their stand on various national issues, and for the unscrupulous few, to take advantage of their peers in the time of a pandemic.

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For instance, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the pandemic had not deterred certain groups in Pikit, North Cotabato, and Pagalungan, Maguindanao, to reignite their armed conflict, displacing hundreds of families from their homes. They now continue to appeal for the temporary cessation of the conflict to allow them to go home and to comply with the locality’s quarantine measures.

Meanwhile, 25,355 families or 126,775 individuals affected by the Battle of Marawi in 2017 remain displaced and are in transitory shelters in various areas in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, and Lanao del Norte. The pandemic has intensified these individuals’ need for, among others, access to water production, other basic facilities and disinfecting materials.

“In other places in the Philippines, families face not just the threat of COVID-19, but also the threat of protracted and renewed displacement,” said UNHCR. “For forcibly displaced families, they are living in the midst of an emergency on top of an emergency.”

The passage of the “Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Act,” which bills remain pending before the House of Representatives and Senate since 2016, could have mitigated the adverse effects on the pandemic on these families. Under these bills, these families and individuals were referred to as Internally Displaced Person or Group of Persons (IDP), who have been forced to flee their homes or places of habitual residence within the national borders, in order to avoid or minimize the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized and/or organized violence, violations of human rights, implementation of development projects, and natural, human-induced and human-made hazards.

These bills intend to provide for the protection of IDPs during and after their displacement, by, among others: (a) allowing concerned authorities to resort to displacement if it was inevitable under circumstances beyond control that pose hazardous risks to the lives and properties of people living in communities; (b) ensuring proper accommodation for IDPs; (c) full disclosure of the reasons and procedure for displacement, financial assistance, and relocation of IDPs; and (d) providing access to basic necessities, such as, among others, basic shelter and housing in conformity with the National Building Code of the Philippines.

These bills seek to prevent IDPs from being confined in any evacuation center, facility, encampment or other settlements beyond what is required by the circumstances, as may be required by the Commission on Human Rights, in close coordination with the military and law enforcement agencies conducting operations, and other concerned governmental agencies. In this regard, they could exercise their right to liberty of movement in and out of any evacuation center, encampment or other settlement, subject to its existing rules and regulations.

Moreover, under these bills, competent authorities shall establish conditions and provide means for IDPs to safely and voluntarily return to their homes or to resettle voluntarily in places of refuge and/or in another part of the country. They, along with CHR, shall ensure prior consultations and the full participation of IDPs during and after the planning and management of their return, local integration or resettlement elsewhere.

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