Geneva, Feb 9 (IBNS) The United Nations refugee agency has welcomed a bill passed by the Congress of the Philippines to protect the rights of more than one million internally displaced persons (IDPs), making it the first Asia-Pacific country to have legislation safeguarding citizens against arbitrary displacement.
"This measure is a milestone for the protection of internally displaced people in the Philippines, where decades-long armed conflicts and many natural disasters have caused massive displacement, especially in the Mindanao region," the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told reporters in Geneva.
The bill seeks to prevent displacement and spells out rights during and after people have been forced to leave their homes. It also imposes heavy penalties against arbitrary internal displacement of any person, including non-combatants caught in the crossfire of internal armed conflicts.
According to UNHCR estimates, between January and October of 2012 alone, some 300,000 people were displaced throughout Mindanao due to natural disasters, as well as the conflict between Government and secessionist groups.
Natural disasters in particular are one of the main causes for displacement in the Philippines due to their frequency. In December, Typhoon Bopha left more than 1,000 people dead, displaced over 1 million people and affected 6.2 million in what was one of the deadliest storms in recent times. Thousands are still homeless and are in need of humanitarian and other assistance in southern Mindanao, Mr. Edwards said.
The bill, which still needs the endorsement of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, also provides monetary compensation for lost or damaged property or for the death of family members, with the Commission on Human Rights, an independent agency of the State, having been designated as the focal point for the protection of displaced people.
Mr. Edwards noted that the bill guarantees the rights of IDPs in accordance with international standards, particularly the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and added that the new legislation is considered as a model for other countries.