Thursday, November 27, 2008

UN regret about Philippines housing rights situation

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UN regret about Philippines housing rights situation
Committee calls for changes in housing rights policies

27 November 2008. The key United Nations body on economic, social and cultural rights has criticized the human rights performance of the government of the Philippines and recommended significant policy changes.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on Nov. 24 issued its Concluding Observations, after reviewing the Philippines’ record concerning implementation of international human rights law in the field of economic, social and cultural rights during the past twelve years, since the Committee last reviewed the Philippines.

The Committee regrets that most of its previous recommendations relating to the prevention of illegal forced evictions have not been acted upon by the State party, and remains deeply concerned about the large scale forced eviction of urban families carried out for the purpose of urban renewal and beautification, which has reportedly affected over 1.2 million people in the period between 1995 and 2008.

“We are happy that the Committee’s findings on illegal, forced evictions ratify our own findings. People cannot be thrown out in the streets like rubbish as has happened so often here,” said Ted AƱana, deputy coordinator of Urban Poor Associates (UPA).

Although diplomatically worded, the finding on housing rights and evictions represent a stinging rebuke to the record of successive governments in addressing the living conditions of the urban poor, according to the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international human rights organisation that has been heavily involved in the UN process, along with a coalition of Philippine groups.

“These findings show how little progress has been made in past twelve years to improve the life of the urban poor”, said Dan Nicholson, Asia and Pacific Programme Coordinator of COHRE. “It’s time for the government to take clear action to remedy the wrongs of the past twelve years.”

“Philippines laws and international standards continue to be violated as forced evictions take place. We call on the government to impose a moratorium on forced evictions until the recommendations made by the UN Committee can be implemented. This means reinstating the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor or another body with real, legally binding powers to enforce laws such as UDHA,” continued Nicholson, in reference to the widely flouted Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) of 1992 (Republic Act No. 7279). “Local governments that violate the law should be prosecuted, as UDHA allows.”

“It’s time for a whole new approach to relocation – which involves real consultation with and involvement of communities, to ensure that relocation sites are close to livelihoods, schools and healthcare facilities, and have power and water before relocation takes place,” said Nicholson.

“Meanwhile, the current budgetary allocation for housing, and particularly for important projects such as the Community Mortgage Programme, is inadequate. We call on the government to increase spending on housing from 0.5% of the budget to 2%, including a real increase for the CMP,” continued Nicholson.

“Some governments in Philippines are complying with their obligations, such as the government in Naga City”, said Nicholson, referring to Mayor Jesse Robredo and the Naga City government, who last year won a prestigious COHRE global Housing Rights Protector Award. “Others – and I must single out MMDA one of the worst offenders – must be reined in by the national government and courts of the Philippines”.

COHRE and local partners, including the UPA, will be organizing a series of events to publicize the Concluding Observations in coming months.

“We look forward to working with government, civil society and the UN to implement these recommendations”, concluded Nicholson. “We don’t want to go back to the Committee again in five years to find out that the situation still hasn’t improved. The people of the Philippines deserve better”.

In its concluding observations, the Committee:
• “Notes with concern that an estimated 16.5 million, roughly 30 percent, of the urban population continue to live in informal settlements and slums, sometimes built on riverbanks, railroad tracks and other high-risk areas, with no or limited basic infrastructures and services, without legal security of tenure and under constant threat of eviction.”

• “notes with concern that the percentage of the national budget allocated to the realisation of housing programmes ... is not sufficient to increase the supply of social housing units for members of the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups.”

• “remains deeply concerned about the large-scale forced eviction of urban families carried out for the purpose of urban renewal and beautification” which have affected more than 1.2 million people since 1995

• notes with concern “the inadequate measures to provide sufficient compensation or adequate relocation sites” for evicted families.

The Committee urges the government to:
• “allocate sufficient funds for the realisation of programmes aimed at providing security of tenure and affordable housing”

• “ensure the effective implementation of ... laws and regulations prohibiting illegal forced evictions and demolitions”

• “reinforce the mandate of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP)”

• “undertake open, participatory and meaningful consultations with affected residents and communities prior to implementing development and urban renewal projects”;

• “ensure that persons forcibly evicted from their properties be provided with adequate compensation and/or offered relocation” in accordance with domestic law and international human rights standards; and

• “guarantee that relocation sites are provided with basic services ... and adequate facilities ... at the time the resettlement takes place”.

The full text of the UNCESCR Concluding Observations can be found at:
http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cescr/docs/E.C.12.PHL.CO.4_EN.pdf

For more information, contact:

Dan Nicholson, COHRE Asia and Pacific Programme Coordinator, at dan@cohre.org, +855 17 523274.
John Lagman, UPA Media Advocacy Officer, at jlagman17@gmail.com, +632 4267615

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