Friday, June 29, 2007

Urban and rural poor dwellers under siege by demolition-freak government

The Urban Poor Associates (UPA) is a human rights non-government organization working to promote and protect the right to adequate housing for everyone, everywhere, including preventing or remedying forced evictions.

UPA is concerned about reports of brutal forced evictions and unlawful demolitions happening in and out of the Metro, the latest of which killed a muslim in Baclaran and 9 tribesmen in Kalinga province.

UPA is concerned that these evictions breach both domestic and international human rights law.

Article XIII, Section 10 of the Philippine Constitution explicitly provides that "Urban or rural poor dwellers shall not be evicted nor their dwellings demolished, except in accordance with law and in a just and humane manner."

The legal process intimated by Article XIII, Section 10 was in turn adopted through statute under Republic Act No. 7279, otherwise known as the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 (UDHA).

Section 28 of the provision states that "Eviction or demolition as a practice shall be discouraged." However, under certain circumstances evictions may be allowed, but must comply with eight mandatory requirements, including: "Adequate consultations on the matter of settlement with the duly designated representatives of the families to be resettled and the affected communities in the areas where they are to be relocated;" and " Adequate relocation".

Furthermore, Executive Order no. 152, issued on December 10, 2002, instructs all government officials to secure a Certificate of Compliance (COC) from the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) to ensure that procedures for a just and humane demolition, as mandated by the Constitution and as set out in the UHDA are followed.

As a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Government of the Philippines is legally obliged to respect the right to adequate housing, including the prohibition on forced evictions, as guaranteed under Article 11(1).

According to General Comment No. 7 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is mandated to monitor compliance with the Covenant, forced evictions can only be justified in very rare and exceptional circumstances and even then must occur in the context of specific procedural protections.

Furthermore, and in any event, forced eviction shall not result in rendering individuals homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights.

Indeed, the Philippines is obligated to ensure that adequate alternative housing and compensation for all losses is made available to affected persons.

In terms of international human rights law, for forced evictions to be considered as lawful, they may only occur in very “exceptional circumstances” and “all feasible alternatives” must be explored. If and only if such “exceptional circumstances” exist and there are no feasible alternatives, can evictions be deemed justified. However, in those rare cases where eviction is considered justified, it must be carried out in strict compliance with international human rights law and in accordance with general principles of reasonableness and proportionality.

These include, inter alia:
۰ Genuine consultation with those affected;
۰ Adequate and reasonable notice for all affected persons prior to the scheduled date of eviction;
۰ Information on the proposed evictions, and where applicable, on the alternative purpose for which the land or housing is to be used, to be made available in reasonable time to all those affected;
۰ Especially where groups of people are involved, government officials or their representatives to be present during an eviction;
۰ All persons carrying out the eviction to be properly identified;
۰ Evictions not to take place in particularly bad weather or at night unless the affected persons consent otherwise;
۰ Provision of legal remedies; and
۰ Provision, where possible, of legal aid to persons who are in need of it to seek redress from the courts.

Therefore, UPA urges the government to:
1. Immediately cease all forced evictions and reconsider any plan that would result in forced eviction;

2. Identify, in consultation with those affected, adequate alternative accommodation and relocation to all those rendered homeless by the recent forced evictions, and establish adequate mechanisms for compensation and other remedies to those previously evicted;

3. Order an impartial and independent inquiry into the violence and promptly make the findings public;

4. Ensure that all officials, government agencies and police personnel who are responsible for human rights violations, including the excessive use of force, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, are prosecuted;

5. Comply with treaty obligations incumbent upon the Philippines to submit a report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the Philippine government has not done since 1995.

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