PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT IS A GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATOR, IN PARTICULAR THE RIGHT TO ADEQUATE HOUSING
IN 1995 the UN issued its concerns about the Philippine government’s failure to comply with the international treaty, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and gave a list of recommendations about housing rights, to the Philippine Government in order remedy the rampant commission of forced evictions, a prima facie violation of the right to adequate housing. A reading of the UN document shows that the Philippine Government from former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Estrada to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo barely complied with the recommendations. Specifically on forced evictions, monitoring by NGOs has shown:
Since 1996 to June 2008 the Philippine Government has failed to stop forced evictions committed by third parties but has itself committed forced evictions considered gross violations of human rights, in particular the right to adequate housing, General Comment No. 7 on Forced Evictions and in violation of its 1997 Constitution and the Urban Development and Housing of 1992 or RA 7279.
Adequate protection and due process were not observed;Advance or prior notice was largely not complied with;Consultations with the affected families and communities were not conducted.
Nearly 50% of those evicted were not provided relocation. The government’s failure to provide relocation to nearly half of the evicted families violates the UN’s document on Forced Evictions which says “Evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights.”
Thousands of families were rendered homeless and were made vulnerable to other human rights violations, such as the rights to work, education, health, food and water, and the right to be protected against “arbitrary or unlawful interference” with one’s home. Moreover, the government and the courts did not provide compensation to the evicted families
Nearly a fourth of the evictions carried out were violent. Many were injured and some were arrested. Vulnerable groups, namely the children, women and elderly suffered the most. Children were traumatized and many stopped attending school. Pregnant women gave premature births or lost their babies. The elderly were reduced to living without shelter, under the sun, the rain and the cold, endangering their health.
The Government attempt to correct this situation was a failure. Its Executive Order No. 152 empowering the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor as the clearing house for the compliance of Section 28 of the UDHA was largely ignored by government agencies, such as MMDA and some LGUs. In February the clearing house function was transferred to LGUs, but its IRR has not been issued. Thus no clearing house function at present exists.
The Government tolerated or ignored national government agencies and local government units which used other laws, such as the Civil Code on nuisance, the National Building Code or PD 1096 to evict poor families without the legal protection or dues process contained in domestic and international laws. UN guidelines on Forced Evictions says: “The State itself must refrain from forced evictions and ensure that the law is enforced against its agents or third parties who carry out forced evictions.”
No court decision at the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court has as yet been rendered recognizing the right to adequate housing of poor families and thus providing them legal protection against forced evictions. Lower courts continue to issue decisions based solely on property rights, either of the government or private entities, ignoring or rejecting arguments protecting the housing rights of the affected families.
Congress, on the other hand, has not exercised its oversight function on the compliance of government agencies with the UDHA. It has not initiated efforts to plug loopholes in the UDHA.
The Philippine Government is in breach of the international treaty. It must therefore exert extra efforts to remedy this situation.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE UN CESCR
The Philippine Government must:
1. Prosecute all those who commit forced evictions either through the courts, ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights, or administrative bodies
2. Establish an independent body with the power to ensure compliance with domestic and international laws against forced evictions, including the power to suspend or stop forced evictions.
3. Order all government bodies that there is only one law, the UDHA, specifically its Section 28, in conformity with General Comment No. 7 on Forced Evictions, to be followed when carrying out just and humane demolitions/evictions and that they should not use any other laws and regulations such as the National Building Code or PD 1096, the law on nuisance, including ordinances such as the MMDA Ordinances No. 03-96 and No. 02-28. Moreover, clarify and instruct all government agencies and units that there is no cut-off date in the UDHA.
4. Establish a special court on housing rights at the lower levels as well at the level of the Court of Appeals, make it obligatory for the Philippine Judicial Academy to include a course on housing rights in its curriculum for judges and a similar course in the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) for lawyers, lower or remove court fees in housing rights cases involving the urban poor, and process expeditiously court cases involving forced eviction and similar cases, extend Writ of Amparo and habeas data to economic, social and cultural rights violations, such as illegal demolitions.
5. Hold twice annually oversight hearings, separately or jointly by the two houses of Congress, on the compliance of the UDHA, in particular Section 28, by government agencies and units, amend certain provisions of the UDHA such as stiffer penalties for those who commit forced evictions.
6. Government should be asked to keep statistics on evictions.
For the UN CESCR:
1. Get commitments from the Philippine government that it will invite fact finding missions from UN Rapporteurs, including the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing.
2. Send letters of inquiry or concern to the Philippine government regarding reports and complaints of forced evictions by civil society organizations, as what the former CESCR chairman Philip Alston did on the report of massive forced evictions because of the 1996 APEC.
3. Persuade the officials of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government to undergo seminars on housing rights and forced evictions to be conducted by UN housing rights experts.
4. Send letters of inquiry and concern to ODA donors and foreign investors on their obligations to avoid forced evictions in their projects in the Philippines.