Of displacements and discriminationBy Gloria Ramos
Cebu Daily News
Hopes soared high like the eagle in the sky when the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the Framework Agreement to end the decades-old strife in Mindanao. President Benigno Aquino III and the negotiators led by former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law Marvic Leonen and the MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim deserve a high five for the achievement. A statutory enactment and a plebiscite have to be hurdled to implement the Framework Agreement, but we can safely say, at this point, that peace is within grasp.
“NO MORE WAR,” the estimated 22,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) (www.idmc.org) will be the first to shout. These Filipino children, women and men had been “on the run in their own land,” a phrase aptly coined by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in its website.
IDPs refer to “Persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.”
Imagine a daily existence for years in evacuation camps, faced with anxiety over personal safety and those of the members of the family and contending with water, health and sanitation issues, apart from disrupted education of the young and the work of the breadwinners.
“Forced from their homes, IDPs also experience specific forms of deprivation, such as loss of shelter, and often face heightened or particular protection risks. These risks may include: armed attack and abuse while fleeing in search of safety; family separation, including an increase in the number of separated and unaccompanied children; heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence, particularly affecting women and children; arbitrary deprivation of land, homes and other property; and displacement into inhospitable environments, where they suffer stigmas, marginalization, discrimination or harassment.” (UNCHR Handbook for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons)
An alarming reality is the growing number of inhabitants who are becoming refugees in their own country because of natural disasters and climate-related events. In various reports, the Philippines has consistently ranked third as most vulnerable to disasters, the latest being the World Risk Index of 2012. The report was released recently by the German Alliance for Development Works, the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security and The Nature Conservancy.
“The new World Risk Report gives us a vivid picture of how environmental destruction on a global scale is increasingly becoming a direct threat to human beings as well,” Alliance director Peter Mucke was quoted by the Jakarta Globe to have said, adding that “where slopes had been deforested, where protective reefs, mangroves and wetlands had degenerated or even completely disappeared, the forces of nature hit with far more intense force on inhabited areas.”
Are the pro-mining, pro-coal and pro-reclamation proponents listening? More disasters mean more refugees and severely degraded ecosystems, with a vast potential for humanitarian and economic crisis unfolding. If Malacanang cares, it has no choice but to finally connect the ecological and climate dots, now.
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Congratulations to the Cebu City Sangguniang Panglungsod for passing the trail-blazing ordinance giving protection to victims of discrimination, on the basis of disability, age, health status, sexual orientation and gender identity, and religion, at the local level. Deserving of special mention is the principal sponsor, Councilor Alvin Dizon, a sincere and passionate crusader for human dignity, respect and tolerance. I am sharing his speech delivered during the session on October 17, 2012:
“We have witnessed a historic milestone which marks an initial victory to an elusive dream for peace in the Southern Philippines. It has been a long and painful journey but it’s worth the wait and finally, we can see the sunshine of hope and peace shining for our Muslim brothers and sisters.
“The Bangsamoro struggle warrants a reflection on the fundamental rights to equality and human dignity. It teaches us that coexistence within the framework of peace, tolerance and human rights are not only possible but also achievable.
“This very same framework is at the heart of this legislative milestone that this humble representation wishes for this August Body to consider as an expression of our firm and immovable commitment to the universality of human dignity and respect for human rights which is given flesh and spirit in our fundamental law mandating the State to make it the highest priority: ‘to enact measures that protect and enhance the right of the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities.’
“I believe that it is high time that we institutionalize an anti-discrimination policy in Cebu City to concretize our commitment and actions for the promotion and protection of basic human rights as enshrined in our Constitution. More importantly, we believe that it is incumbent upon us to nurture a culture of respect and make inclusion and acceptance real in our city.
“Discrimination is an existing and serious concern in our society. In our consultations with various sectors, we have come to know the wide extent and seriousness of the problem.
“In Cebu City, a Muslim woman was denied entry into a bank for wearing a hijab. A HIV-positive person was denied treatment, at the last minute, by a physician upon knowing of his real condition. A person who previously had leprosy but medically declared free from the disease could still not find any work because the scars discourage or perhaps frighten prospective employers. Some business establishments require women applicants to take pregnancy tests as part of their screening process. Gays, lesbians and transgenders find it difficult which comfort room to use where they will not be sneered at.
“A study conducted by the Psychological Association of the Philippines revealed that discrimination is harmful to mental health and the public good.
“…this proposed legislation is aimed at promoting equality and eliminate discrimination, and to contribute in the creation of a human rights culture in the country through an anti-discrimination program at the local level which define and penalizes acts which are considered discriminatory and prejudicial to human dignity. The thrust of the ordinance is to alleviate cases of discrimination and to raise people’s awareness and bring them into affirmative action…”
More from this Column:
- Public participation and political dynasties
- Being green
- Nature cannot wait
- The stirring journey of Jireh
- Rediscovering our paradise in an ailing planet