UNHCR facilitates issuance of PhilHealth identification cards, SMS broadcast to Marawi IDPs

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency, has engaged the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to help provide identification cards to internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by the Marawi siege. Most of the displaced lost vital identity documents in their haste to flee their homes as pro-ISIS militants laid siege to the city. As the IDPs filled out their PhilHealth Membership Registration Form, they were also given the option to sign a consent form to be registered to a SMS broadcast powered by SMART Communications, Inc.

UNHCR with support from the Central Emergency Response Fund of the United Nations will provide assistance to PhilHealth representatives in the municipalities of Pantao Ragat, Pantar, Balo-i, and Iligan City in Lanao del Norte and Saguiaran in Lanao del Sur. The project is implemented in coordination with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the local government units of the municipalities, in partnership with the Catholic Relief Services, and is powered by SMART.

The pilot was held on 24 October 2017 at Pantao Ragat, Lanao del Norte.

Loss of identity documents in the course of displacement tends to heighten protection risks, including difficulties in accessing basic public and social services, such as education, healthcare, and livelihood opportunities.

“In safeguarding the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable, we hope to reach the displaced population from the Marawi conflict to accord them full and equal enjoyment of their freedom of movement and access to healthcare, education, and employment,” said Yasser Saad, UNHCR Head of National Office in the Philippines.

The loss of documents also limits freedom of movement and amplifies the risk of harassment, exploitation or arbitrary arrest, and detention, especially in light of the imposition of martial law in the southern Philippines. Even with the liberation of Marawi and the termination of combat operations in the city, a “No ID, No Entry” policy in different checkpoints in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur remains implemented.

Lack of documentation can also curtail the ability of IDPs to voluntarily opt for available durable solutions after displacement.

“Very important as the response transitions to early recovery and rehabilitation for the displaced population to have identity documents so they can readily avail of durable solutions after displacement,” added Saad.

To mitigate these protection risks, the PhilHealth identification cards will serve as documents proving the identity of the IDPs and shall address restriction to their mobility.

“UNHCR is working with us to ensure the freedom of movement of the IDPs. The PhilHealth card will serve as their proof of identity when passing through checkpoints. Together with the Disaster Assistance Family Access Cards, this PhilHealth card will also enable the IDPs to avail of free healthcare services,” said Yassien Dangcal, Chief Social Insurance Officer of the PhilHealth Local Health Insurance Office in Marawi City, during a community preparation event held last 19 October in Pantao Ragat.

Meanwhile, the primary objective of the broadcast service is two-fold: for the government and humanitarian actors to effectively disseminate information to be shared with the displaced population, and for the IDPs to have a mechanism to raise any concerns they have regarding their displacement.

UNHCR has previously implemented civil documentation programs for IDPs in Mindanao and has carried emergency interventions in the wake of Typhoons Washi and Bopha, supertyphoon Haiyan, and in the aftermath of conflict in areas in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. It has maintained a presence in Mindanao since 2010 and co-leads the Protection Cluster with the DSWD.