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(CHR (IV) A2009 - 014)

The Commission on Human Rights under its Constitutional mandate as independent body issues this advisory to urge a human-rights based approach to the disaster response and humanitarian assistance work now going on in the province of Albay during the dangerous volcanic activity of Mayon Volcano.

Humanitarian assistance and human rights work have the same overarching objectives – to protect members of the human family. The human rights based- approach to humanitarian assistance pays particular attention to vulnerable sectors, ensures protections for human rights and human dignity, prevents and avoids discrimination, is transparent and, wherever possible, is participatory.

The CHR takes note of the measures already taken by the National Disaster Coordinating Council, the provincial government of Albay, and other government bodies, including the evacuation of households within a specified zone and the establishment of evacuation centers.

The Commission also takes note that some persons/families are not willing to leave their homes. Another challenge is that some individuals are even deliberately making their way towards the danger zone as “disaster tourists” for the sheer thrill-seeking delight of seeing volcanic eruptions up close. These behaviors are not only dangerous, they have implications greater than the safety and individual life of the ones who choose to stay or go to the danger zones for no official reason.


Human Rights Issues in the Current Situation

The current situation raises certain questions about human rights and humanitarian assistance such as:

The Government has the duty to respect, uphold and protect the human rights of all persons, including the right to life and security of person.

In the fulfillment of this duty, the Government is allowed, under international treaty to which the Philippines is party, certain measures for public order and public safety so long as they are based on valid law issued by the competent authority and carried out by the relevant and competent authorities.

The declaration of a state of calamity gives legal basis to the government to assume additional police powers in the area.


Government Obligations re: Evacuation and Forced Evacuation

Considering the humanitarian objective of the forced evacuation measures that are being considered by the NDCC and the PDCC, the Commission on Human Rights sees no legal or human rights basis to object to such emergency measures so long as they are carried out in a manner that is humane, respectful of the dignity of the persons, not using disproportionate force, without discrimination and with conscious attention to the needs of vulnerable sectors such as children, women, the elderly and persons with disabilities.  

In addition to the above reminder of human rights obligations on the manner of evacuation, the CHR also recommends:


Albay residents have human rights obligations

 The Commission on Human Rights also reminds all persons in Albay that they have responsibilities to respect and protect the human rights of others.

Heads of households should take into consideration the right to life and safety of all members of their families; that their own loved ones are put at risk by their decision not to voluntarily evacuate from the danger zone. If the parents are killed or hurt by an eruption or its effects, their dependents will be permanently deprived of their care, support, and protection.

Refusal to evacuate also raises the risk that they will need to be rescued when the volcanic eruptions become major or when the earthquakes do major damage to their homes. Rescue workers are also people with human rights. We have seen many heroes lose their lives for others in the aftermath of Typhoons Ondoy and Peping. By putting yourselves in the path of danger, you are also putting those who will rescue you in the path of danger. This is not respectful of their human rights or the rights of their families who love them and depend on them.  


Media practitioners have human rights obligations

The CHR notes the important role that media plays in keeping the public informed about developments regarding the Mayon Volcano situation. Timely and accurate information can save lives and protect people from harm.

The CHR, however, also reminds the media that the news profession carries with it some specific duties as well to respect and protect human rights, including to protect the dignity of persons, especially those affected by the natural calamity (not to show persons in degrading positions, not to violate the privacy of any person, not to force persons to be interviewed if they do not wish to speak). Considering that the public is relying on the media for information on which they will base their actions, the Commission urges all media practitioners to ensure they corroborate their information with reliable sources before they make public announcements.

Media team leaders and decision makers are also reminded that they hold the safety of their teams in their hands.


CHR on the ground

The Commission on Human Rights, particularly the CHR Region V Office, is on the ground coordinating with the various government agencies responding to this natural disaster. Concerns about human rights matters can be referred to the CHR Region V Office in Legaspi City , Albay, or the CHR Central Office in Quezon City .

Issued this 28th day of December 2009, Quezon City , Philippines.