Protect children during emergencies

Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act
Committee Report No. 338

Sponsorship Speech
By Senator Pia S. Cayetano
15 December 2015

Mr. President, esteemed colleagues,

Our Constitution mandates the State to defend the right of children to assistance, including proper care and nutrition, and special protection from all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitation, and other conditions prejudicial to their development.[1] The Philippines is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes that children should be brought up in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality, and solidarity. [2]

In recent years, the Philippines has endured several natural disasters, the devastating effects of which are felt until now. In 2013, the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol destroyed at least 2.1 Billion Pesos worth of infrastructure [3] and took numerous lives, being the deadliest earthquake in the Philippines in more than two decades. Just three weeks later, Super Typhoon Yolanda ravaged Eastern and Central Visayas, claiming thousands of lives, and displacing millions. [4] Children are the most vulnerable in these situations. Many are orphaned or separated from their families; more suffer trauma from the horrors of disaster. Without adequate disaster response, these children do not have access to the most basic of needs, such as clean water, food, clothing, or medicine. Much less do they have access to services, information, and support, to help them recover psychosocially and resume a normal life.

Thus today, I rise to sponsor Senate Bill No. 3034 under Committee Report No. 338 or the Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act which seeks to declare it the duty of the State to protect the fundamental rights of children before, during, and after disasters and other emergency situations.

Comprehensive Emergency Program for Children

The bill requires that the Department of Social Welfare and Development, along with relevant government agencies and civil society organizations, shall develop a Comprehensive Emergency Program for Children, taking into consideration humanitarian standards for their protection. This program shall be implemented immediately after the declaration of a national or local state of calamity, or other emergency situation to protect children and pregnant and lactating women.

The said Program shall have the following components:

1) Establishment of Evacuation Centers

2) Establishment of Transitional Shelters

3) Assurance for Immediate Delivery of Basic Necessities and Services

4) Stronger Measures to Ensure the Safety and Security of Affected Children

5) Delivery of Health, Medical and Nutrition Services

6) Plan of Action for Prompt Resumption of Educational Services for Children

7) Establishment of Child Friendly Spaces

8) Promotion of Children’s Rights

Other Features of The Bill

Evacuation Centers

A common practice is using schools as evacuation centers. This obviously disrupts or delays the return of students to school. Thus, one of the elements of the Program is the establishment and identification of evacuation centers which ideally should not be schools. However, schools may be used as evacuation centers in cases where there is no other available place or structure. In such cases, the use of school premises shall be as brief and limited as possible, and the affected LGU must implement measures to prevent interference to the educational activities of children.

Orphaned, Unaccompanied, or Separated Children

Mr. President, the unfortunate reality is that in the wake of disasters, suddenly and prematurely, many children are orphaned, separated, or unaccompanied.

To address the plight of these children, the DSWD is tasked to develop a minimum set of standards and guidelines for the Family Tracing Reunification System to ensure the early reunion of unaccompanied or separated children with their families or immediate relatives. Children whose families and relatives cannot be found or are assessed to be incapable of providing proper care and protection shall be placed in a licensed residential care facility, or with a foster family, or a community-based center.

System of Restoring Civil Registry Documents

Currently, there is no system in place for the restoration of civil registry documents following disasters or emergencies. As it stands, if something like Yolanda happens again, we run the risk of loss or destruction of important civil registry documents which contain vital information pertaining to the personal circumstances of a child.

Under this bill, the Philippine Statistics Authority shall develop a system for the restoration and reconstruction of civil registry documents that have been destroyed during a disaster or calamity, in order to ensure that the vital personal information of affected children and their families are adequately protected and available at all times.

Conclusion

Mr. President, the Philippines is no stranger to natural disasters and calamities, from typhoons to volcanic eruptions to earthquakes, some of which have left massive devastation in their wake. Through the years, we have taken measures to increase preparedness and enhance responsiveness to these situations. However, children remain to be one of the most vulnerable sectors during such disasters. We must take steps in order to protect them and ensure that their fundamental rights are upheld, and this proposed bill is a significant stride towards that goal.

As such, I earnestly seek your support for the swift passage of this bill.

I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the presence of the Save the Children, which is an NGO which has been very supportive in the drafting of this measure. They are in the gallery today. Thank you.

[1] 1987 Constitution, Article XV, Section 3.
[2] Convention on the Rights of the Child. http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
[3] http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/332615/news/regions/ndrrmc-death-toll-from-central-visayas-quake-now-213
[4] http://www.savethechildren.org.ph/our-work/emergencies/typhoon-yolanda

Sen. Pia Cayetano: “Children remain to be one of the most vulnerable sectors during such disasters… We must take steps in order to protect them and ensure that their fundamental rights are upheld”

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