Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged the Duterte administration to send a formal invitation to United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Cecilia Jimenez-Damary to look into the growing number of citizens displaced by the crisis in Marawi.
De Lima, a known human rights defender, filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 455 urging the Department of Foreign Affairs to invite Jimenez-Damary to examine the worsening plight of displaced people in the province, which could continue and even worsen due to the extension of martial law in the entire Mindanao until Dec. 31this year.
“In light of the extension of the effectivity of Martial Law in Mindanao and the worrisome conditions already reported to be prevailing in the affected areas, it is imperative for the Executive Department to invite Jimenez-Damary, to enable her to verify these troubling complaints, assess the actual living conditions of the IDPs within and outside evacuation camps, and to propose recommendations on how to improve such conditions going forward,” she said.
Based on the figures released by the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Zamboanga, since the proclamation of martial law on May 23, and as of June 2017, there are a total of 351,168 displaced individuals in Marawi, with 17,389 of them staying in evacuation centers.
Aside from the difficult living conditions, the affected families and communities are reportedly facing unjust treatments from local authorities, with the military officials allegedly refusing the passage of relief goods in the province, conducting indiscriminate airstrikes, disrespecting the Islamic faith and harassing women by telling inappropriate rape jokes.
De Lima, former chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, pointed out how Ranao rescue team member Samira Gutoc-Tomawis revealed the difficult living condition of IDPs in Marawi during the special joint session of Congress for the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao on July 22.
“Among the disturbing conditions mentioned by Ms. Gutoc-Tomawis is the situation of mothers and their children in Marawi, such as the cases of three women sharing one bed in a charity ward, dead babies being buried every five days, men rescued by authorities are being asked to remove their clothes then walk while blindfolded, and of two pregnant women who were taken by the PNP for questioning for a whole day because they were found holding dextrose intravenous drips,” she said.
The Senator from Bicol noted that the government, as the “legal protector of Filipinos who are unable to protect themselves,” has the duty to pursue an impartial investigation through an independent commission of inquiry to be conducted by the UN Special Rapporteur.
“The government, under the doctrine of ‘parens patriae,’ should always prioritize and address the situation of the displaced citizens in Mindanao — particularly, the surfacing humanitarian issues emerging from the intensified armed conflict between the military and of terrorist elements,” she said.
De Lima said that the visit of Jimenez-Damary would not only provide insights on the relevant issues, but also aid in finding remedial legislative measures that could help address the growing humanitarian crisis in Mindanao.
One of the important functions of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights for IDPs is to conduct country visits, which provide an opportunity to assess and check whether the needs of the IDPs are being met with urgency.
A staunch critic of injustices happening in the country since Duterte assumed presidency, De Lima filed Senate Resolution No. 153 last year urging the government to send a formal invitation to UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard to look into the phenomenon of extrajudicial killings in the country.
Although Callamard had visited the country in May this year to participate in an academic conference on drug-related issues, she has not been allowed by the government to conduct a fact-finding mission about the spate of extrajudicial killings in the administration’s all-out war on drugs.