Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Past and Present Suffering

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:19:00 05/11/2011

PHNOM PENH—Despite its tragic past, Phnom Penh remains a lovely city with wide, tree-lined streets, non-invasive traffic, pastel-colored homes, and the small birds that fill the city with their chatter and song in the early mornings. Very much a part of this peaceful setting are the elderly monks walking along under the trees, barefoot and holding their umbrellas against the sun. The traffic moves at 20 kilometers per hour and there are no horns. I asked a Filipina living there, why the traffic went so slowly and she said it’s because of all the motorbikes: the car drivers’ fear they will injure the bikers if they go faster. In return, it seems, for this kindness the passenger tricycles run almost silently and the young women move along gracefully on their motor bikes. All such beauty goes unnoticed in Edsa’s chaos.

It might seem as if this city, which suffered terribly during the Pol Pot regime, had vowed to have a deep compassion for all its people, including the bikers and the poor. If we are compassionate in small things, we may learn to be compassionate in large matters, the people of Phnom Penh might have thought.

Many seem to have learned that lesson, but not all. The last of 4,000 poor families are now being forcibly ejected by the government and Chinese and local business interests from their homes around Boeungkak Lake. This lake, once a favorite recreation area, is filled now with dirt and sand. There will soon be luxury homes there. Right now it looks like the desolate areas near the ruined reactors of Japan.

Recently we met five women from the lake who will be evicted. They have 19 children among them and are indistinguishable from the women of Metro Manila who are also threatened with eviction—along the R-10 Road, the esteros, Manggahan Floodway, Lupang Arenda and other sites. The Cambodian women have the same fears as the Filipino women about their children’s schooling and family jobs. They don’t know for sure what will happen. It is not a pleasant sight to see real fear for their families in these mature hardworking women’s faces. Eviction brings back too easily the fears of the Pol Pot era.

Those were terrible times in Phnom Penh. I may have met the parents of these women in 1980 when I was able to visit Phnom Penh after the Vietnamese army in 1979 drove Pol Pot out of power. When I was there with Fr. Jorge Anzorena and Francisco “Bimbo” Fernandez the people were returning from the rural areas, “the killing fields” of Cambodia. They had been driven there by Pol Pot, and had suffered terribly. Many were traumatized by their experience. We were told not to talk to people about development, even about cooperatives, since such words sounded like words Pol Pot had used. It seemed the people were half afraid that the hated dictator might just be sitting just around the corner listening to their conversations.

Manila has had its own share of suffering. Some 100,000 Filipinos died in the last battle for Intramuros. A small shrine dedicated to the memory of these people stands within easy walking distance of the Manila Cathedral. Compassion for the poor is very often absent; the government still evicts families in an illegal and often violent manner.

Compassion is an Asian virtue. It is cultivated in a special way by Buddhism, but is also at the heart of Christianity.

People who have suffered greatly like the people of Hiroshima, Warsaw, Rwanda, Intramuros or Cambodia should be respected and allowed to get on with their lives in peace. They have suffered enough. To continue to treat them poorly is a form of profanity, for God has taken its place among them in their suffering.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is upa@pldtdsl. net.

PRESS STATEMENT: Demolitions and forced evictions in Laperal, Makati, appear to constitute breaches of international law

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) strongly condemns the violence that marred recent attempts to demolish the homes of about 1,000 families situated within the Laperal Compound of Makati City, Manila, on 28th April, 2011. The demolitions were ordered by the Mayor of Makati after the Makati City Government classified the informal settlement a danger zone following a fire that occurred in the area 8 days previously. Residents who attempted to resist the demolitions were met with force. The practice of forced eviction constitutes a gross violation of human rights, in particular the right to adequate housing. COHRE is deeply concerned about reports that State officials and the police may be responsible for such serious human rights abuses.

The situation is reflective of an alarming trend whereby residents of urban poor areas affected by fires are subsequently prevented from returning to their homes and forcibly evicted, without provision of alternative housing or sufficient compensation, further aggravating the losses already encountered. COHRE calls for an urgent and independent investigation to be conducted into all attempts at forced evictions following fires in urban poor areas in Manila to ensure that all those responsible for human rights violations are held fully accountable.

Based on the information COHRE received, the demolitions of April 28th were in violation of numerous national and international human rights obligations of the Government of the Philippines. No court order was issued sanctioning the demolitions and evictions, and no consultation, negotiation, or advance warning was provided to affected residents. Residents attempting to resist eviction to protect their homes were met with a violent response. Government resources were used to forcibly evict residents living on privately owned land. Adequate housing has not been provided to those who were forced to leave the area, and compensation provided was not sufficient to enable those affected to live in adequate housing elsewhere in the city.

Where those affected by evictions are unable to provide for themselves, the Government is obliged to take all appropriate measures, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land, as the case may be, is available. COHRE calls for an on-site socialized housing scheme to be provided for affected residents of the fire and subsequent demolitions in Laperal, and for alternative adequate housing to be provided to those families who volunteer to be relocated.

COHRE strongly condemns the use of violence against residents and particularly against women. Violence against persons who try to protect their homes against illegal forced evictions breaches a number of international human rights standards the Philippines are obliged to follow, including the right to security of the person guaranteed under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
As a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Government of the Philippines, including all State organs, is obliged to respect, protect and fulfill the right to adequate housing, as guaranteed under Article 11(1) ICESCR and to refrain from the practice of forced evictions. Forced evictions can only be justified in exceptional circumstances, after genuine consultation with those affected, provision of legal redress, and must never cause homelessness. Such exceptional circumstances generally only exist where evictions are necessary in the public interest, but not where land is sought by private developers. Even 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.
Authorities are obliged to give options for adequate alternative accommodation or sufficient compensation that enable those affected to find adequate accommodation elsewhere. Adequate alternative accommodation or compensation must enable those affected to live in adequate housing conditions and to continue their livelihoods with as little disruption as possible.

These provisions were not adhered to. The actions of April 28th in Makati therefore appear to constitute violations of international law.

The Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 (RA 7279) lays down conditions which must be fulfilled before evictions and/or demolitions are carried out. The rehabilitation and development of Makati, or any other area of Manila should not proceed unless and until the basic human rights accorded to the urban poor guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution are protected. RA 7279 states that eviction or demolition may only be allowed under the following exceptional situations: when persons or entities occupy danger areas such as esteros, railroad tracks, garbage dumps, riverbanks, shorelines, waterways, and other public places such as sidewalks, roads, parks, and playgrounds. This provision is clearly directed at publicly owned spaces. Privately owned property such as Laperal cannot be designated as a danger zone area under this provision.

RA 7279 also states that there must be a court order for eviction and demolition. RA 7279 requires that those whose houses are subject to demolition should be notified in advance of eviction. It also compels consultation with and relocation of the affected citizens. Without compliance, there must be no evictions or demolitions. Evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights.

These provisions were not adhered to. The actions carried out on April 28th in Makati therefore appear to constitute breaches of national law, including the 1987 Constitution and RA 7279.

Everyone has a right to the city, thus demolition of informal settlements in the city must either be stopped, or the poor provided adequate housing in the city. The poor living in the city must be given security of land tenure or, at least, a secure and affordable humane housing. Urban development planning should consider the right of the urban poor to live in the city. This includes long term renters, who must not be deprived of their human rights and who must not be excluded from accessing restitution to housing rights violations, including the right to adequate housing at relocation sites.

Constitutional limits on power, a key feature of democracy, requires adherence to the rule of law. When exceptional circumstances dictate that evictions should take place, due process must be followed. The Constitution of the Philippines, Republic Act No. 7279 and a number of binding international treaties all provide for minimum standards regarding evictions and relocations that must be adhered to.

The rule of law is the supreme check on political power used against people's rights. In light of the above, COHRE urges the Government of the Philippines to ensure that any future evictions are carried out only in exceptional circumstances, only when absolutely necessary, and in full accordance with national and international law.

For further details, please contact: Ben Rutledge, Ben@cohre.org ,

Manila, Philippines
May 10th, 2011

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