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Report on the "Strengthening Convergences for Humanitarian Action in Asean: an AIPR Symposium on International Humanitarian Law"




Manila, Republic of the Philippines

October 2-3, 2017






The International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) observed that the world has become more complex and interconnected since ASEAN was first established in 1967. Many of the current health, environmental and security threats are now beyond the abilities of any nation to confront. New challenges require ASEAN Member States (AMS) to consolidate their commitment to good governance and the rule of law to safeguard the well being of diverse people.

It is from this context that the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) with ICRC in partnership with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) of the Republic of the Philippines and the Department of Foreign Affairs with the support of the Governments of Norway and Switzerland organized this regional symposium in the Republic of the Philippines.


The organizers defined that the main objective of the symposium is to facilitate a regional dialogue among all concerned stakeholders to lobby for humanitarian access to people in need including in conflict situations, as well as to contribute to conflict prevention and reconciliation in the ASEAN.

Further, ICRC and its partners conceptualized that this event will enable the various actors from AMS to explore convergence between IHL, Humanitarian Principles, Religious Norms and Customary Practices to address some specific humanitarian and protection challenges in ASEAN and the outcomes will lead to a set of recommendations highlighting best practices and possible codes of conduct.


The symposium was attended by 178 participants coming from AIPR Governing Council and Advisory Board Members and other AMS, NGOs, International Organizations, United Nations agencies, Think-tanks, Universities Religious Organizations and Community leaders; relevant members of the ASEAN Secretariat; and National and International Red Cross/Red Crescent societies, ICRC representatives from Geneva, The Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia.

Brigadier General Joseph M. ACOSTA (Ret), the former Surgeon General, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Alain U. IBUNA Medical Administrative Corps, Chief, Medical Logistics Division, Office of the Surgeon General, AFP represented the International Committee of Military Medicine (ICMM).


The symposium was conducted at Maynilad Ballroom, Manila Hotel, Bonifacio Drive, Ermita, Manila 0913, Republic of the Philippines from 2-3 October 2017.


Day 1: 2 October 2017

The participants registered for the event starting from 0800H to 0845H. After this, the symposium formally started at 0845H with Mr Paschal PORCHET, the Head of Delegation, ICRC Philippines welcoming all the participants. This was followed immediately by successive Welcome Remarks rendered by H.E. Andrea REICHLIN, Ambassador of Switzerland to the Philippines and H.E. Erik FORNER, Ambassador of Norway to the Philippines. Afterwards, Secretary Jesus DUREZA, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Philippines delivered his Keynote Speech to impart on the participants the core message/objectives of the event. This sequence of events which form part of Session I ended at 1000H after the conduct of a brief photo session of all the participants. 

After a short break, Dr. Hugo SLIM, the Head of Policy and Humanitarian Diplomacy, ICRC Geneva delivered a presentation on “Protection Challenges Related to Conflicts and Communal/Ethnic Tensions in the Region” followed by a Question and Answer portion until lunch time.

The activity (Session III) resumed after lunch break with presentations and panel discussion pertaining to the theme “Exploring Convergences between IHL, Religious Principles and Customary Practices to Enhance Respect for Humanitarian Law”. The specific issues tackled were: a. The Convergence between International Humanitarian Law/Humanitarian Principles and Religious Principles and Practices b. The Relevance of Engaging with Religious Circles and Actors c. Humanitarian Assistance by Religious Groups during Crises and d. Promoting IHL through Interfaith Dialogue. 

First panelist was D. Ahmed ALDAWOODY, Legal Adviser (Islamic Law and Jurisprudence), ICRC Geneva who talked about “Enhancing Respect of the IHL through Islamic Law “. Dr ALDAWOODY specifically defined the convergence of IHL between Islamic Law which prescribes the “prevention of human suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles”. Next to present was Dr. Hilman LATIEF, a member of the Faculty of Islamic Studies, Muhammadiyah University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia who discussed about how the IHL was conceived in the Muslim World and how faith-based religions deal with humanitarian principles in the local setting (Indonesia) in a presentation entitled “Islam: Customary Practices and Humanitarian Principles”. The Venerable Dr Phramaha Boonchuay DOOJAI, Buddhist monk and Lecturer, Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU), Chiangmai campus, Thailand was also one of the panelist and shared his thoughts on the convergence between IHL and Buddhist principles and customary practices, the relevance of engaging with religious sectors and actors, humanitarian assistance by religious groups during crises and the promotion of IHL through inter-faith dialogue.

The fourth panelist was the former director of the Institute for Indigenous People’s Education (IIPE) based in Davao City, Philippines, Norma Gonos who shared her experiences as an advocate of the rights of indigenous people by presenting a topic on giving respect and recognition to indigenous people’s humanitarian and religious beliefs and customary practices. The last presenter was supposed to be the former Archbishop of Davao and the Founder and Co-Convenor of the Bishops-Ulama Conference of the Philippines, Most Reverend Fernando CAPALLA but was not able to make it and a member of the organizing committee read his message for the appreciation of the participants. The allotted time for the speakers was 10-15 minutes for the session which ended at 1500H and was superbly facilitated by the moderator, Mr Rezlan I. JENIE, Executive Director, AIPR Secretariat.

Before the start of Session IV, a Film Screening entitled “Faith in Humanity” lasting for 15 minutes was shown as a prelude and to condition the mindset of the participants for the next topics to be presented. At 1530H, the next set of panelists assumed their positions on stage with H.E. Morten HOGLUND, the Ambassador of Norway to the ASEAN serving as moderator. The theme of the session is on the “Challenges Faced in Translating Humanitarian Principles and Religious Values into Practice When Assisting and Protecting Victims of Conflict” and the specific issues include the “Humanitarian Perspectives from the Field Including Challenges with Regard to Access and Proximity to Victims of Conflict” and a “Principled Humanitarian Action to Better Assist and Protect the Victims of Conflict”.

The session commenced with Ms Rahmawati HUSEIN, Vice Chair, Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center, Central Board of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia presenting her Center’s experiences on challenges in practicing humanitarian principles and religious values in assisting and protecting victims of conflicts. She dwelled largely on the fact that “helping those who are in need is embedded in the religious values” hence the delivery of services and assistance are selective in nature. Moreover, humanitarian groups/organizations preferred to “use religious language in practicing international standards and principles” and people perceived that the international standards and principles on humanity espoused by humanitarian workers are “Western values”.

Attorney Oscar PALAYAB, the Secretary General of the Philippine Red Cross was the next panelist and delivered a topic entitled the “Challenges Faced in Translating Humanitarian Principles and Religious Values Into Practice when Protecting and Assisting Victims of Conflicts”. Atty Palayab highlighted some challenges experienced by humanitarian workers from the Philippine Red Cross like the culture/local leaders/stakeholders are different all over the country, the security and safety of the staff and volunteers responding the conflict and the “religious perception of the Red Cross logo”. He was followed by Dato Dr. Ahmad Faizal Mohd PERDAUS, Asia Disaster Risk Reduction Network, Malaysia who presented the challenges experienced by selected countries in Asia in performing humanitarian works in order to provide assistance and protect victims of conflict.

Another significant presentation entitled “Making a Case for Conflict Sensitive and Peace Promoting Humanitarian Actions” was shared by Ms Diosita T. Andot, Undersecretary for Peace and Development, OPAPP, Philippines which focused on the challenges of mainstreaming conflict sensitivity in humanitarian actions like the need to improve and to make camp management and facilities Conflict Sensitive and Peace Promoting (CSPP)- compliant, need to address the needs not just of the IDPs in evacuation centers but also that of home-based IDPs and host families/ communities, the need to provide protection for the vulnerable groups especially the youth and the children, the need to improve and make the coordination mechanisms more responsive and inclusive and the need to strengthen conflict resolution mechanisms and processes to promote healing, reconciliation and bridging of social divides.

The last panelist was Tomoko MATSUZAWA, ICRC Head of Office, Cotabato City, Philippines and delivered a presentation on the challenges on access and proximity to victims of conflicts like the accessibility to affected areas, the lack of information on ground, weak coordination of stakeholders and the acceptance and perception of the people itself. She suggested some humanitarian actions to better assist and protect the victims which include NIIHA (neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action), the “Do No Harm principle”, better coordination to avoid duplication, transparency in action and confidentiality in the bilateral dialogue.

After the end of the question and answer portion at 1700H, there was an hour-long break before the commencement of the official dinner scheduled at 1800H wherein Senator Richard GORDON who also serves as the Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross delivered a very inspiring message to everyone. At 2000H, the event for the day was officially ended.

Day 2: 3 October 2017

Session V with the theme “How to Increase the Protection of Vulnerable Groups while Addressing Conflict and Security-Related Challenges in ASEAN?” officially commenced at 0830H. This topic focused on Health Care with the following specific issues:
a. The rights and responsibilities of health-care personnel working in armed conflict and other emergencies.
b. Generating respect and adherence to the ethical principles of health care.
c. Incorporating the protection and provision of support services for health-care personnel into the operational practice.
d. Ensuring the preparedness and security of health-care facilities, ambulatory and pre-hospital services during armed conflict and other humanitarian crises.

Mr. Alistair D.B. COOK, Coordinator, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Program of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore served as moderator for the session and again, the speakers were given 10-15 minutes to deliver their presentations. The session started with Mr Jose AMIGO, Health Coordinator, ICRC Philippines delivering a presentation pertaining to the IHL Protection of Health Care and the cases of violence against health care workers providing medical services to the affected communities. In addition, the speaker presented recommendations to address the issue, which include strengthening domestic legislations, incorporating the protection of health care into the practice of armed groups and many other strategies including what the states can do for the protection of health care delivery in armed conflict.

Next was Dr. Maria GUEVARA, Regional Humanitarian Representative, Medicins Sans Frontieres who highlighted the attacks on MSF personnel when delivering health care services in several locations and urged the expanded role of the ASEAN such as the AHA Center during disasters. Dr GUEVARA was followed by Professor Lubna BAIG, Pro Vice Chancellor, Dean APPNA Institute of Public Health, Jinnah SINDH Medical University, Pakistan who lectured on a topic “Preventing Violence Against Health Care: Operationalization of Research Based Strategies in Pakistan” which dwelled on several interventions which are products of research in protecting health care personnel like training, safety of physical facilities, legal interventions and the likes.

Another noteworthy presentation was made by Dr Tha Hla SHWE, Honorary President, Myanmar Red Cross Society, Myanmar pertaining to the experiences of health care personnel and Red Cross members in Myanmar of violence against them in consideration of the series of communal conflicts in the country especially after their independence from Britain. Finally, BGen Joseph M ACOSTA (Ret), the former Surgeon General, AFP and ICMM Representative delivered a presentation highlighting the experiences of AFP medical personnel supporting combat operations, particularly on their defined roles in the battlefield. BGen ACOSTA shared that even though military medical personnel are adequately protected by their comrade in arms and by the availability of force protection equipment, there are still risks and dangers confronting them in today’s asymmetric warfare as they perform their functions in providing health care services in the battlefield. This was followed by a Q&A portion and afterwards, the participants take their lunch break at 1200H.

The session resumed at 1300H with the theme “Children and Education”. Specific issues include:
a. Ensuring that children have access to formal and informal education
b. Enhancing the capacities of teachers and students to reduce their exposure and vulnerability to violence
c. Strengthening community-based mechanisms for the protection of children
d. Providing economic or material support to households facing economic challenges to send their children to schools.

For this session, the moderator was H.E. Vongtep Arthakaivalvatee, the Deputy Secretary General for ASEAN Socio-cultural Community, ASEAN Secretariat and the speakers were: Ms. Monique NANCHEN, Child Protection Adviser, ICRC Geneva who talked about “Education in Danger” wherein she highlighted that the protection of children, teachers and school facilities should be assured at all times; Ms. Najeela SHIHAB, Founder and Head of School, Sekolah Cikal and Rumah Main Cikal, Indonesia talked about access to quality education through literacy improvement especially of children from vulnerable communities and identified issues and solutions to improve the quality of education based on her experiences in Indonesia; Ms. Lotta SYLWANDER, UNICEF Representative to the Philippines discussed the K-12 educational system in the Philippines and suggested alternative learning systems to make education accessible to all and stated that “education is the best way to promote peace”; Ms. Maria CORAZON de la Paz, Chairperson, Balay Rehabilitation Center, Philippines espoused the rehabilitation of violence/conflict affected children through the establishment of Youth camps, Peace camps, scholarships, teacher training and livelihood training; Mr. Ned OLNEY, Save the Children Country Director, Philippines highlighted and commended the availability of a law (RA 10821) in the Philippines for the protection of children and suggested that the utilization of schools as evacuation centers be limited to 15 days in order to ensure the continued delivery of educational services in the community.  

The Q&A portion on this session tackled strategies like policy implementation for the improvement of education with budget considerations, technology-based initiatives to help the competencies of the children and states should invest in education for displaced populations. Moreover, information from one of the participants revealed that during conflicts, girls faced more risks than boys. The session ended at 1200H and the participants took their lunch break.

After the break, the session resumed at 1300H with the theme “Protection of Vulnerable Groups”. The issue centered on the protection of migrants and vulnerable groups. There were four (4) panelists and the moderator was H.E. Ambassador Tan Hung SENG, Permanent Representative of Singapore to ASEAN. The first panelist was Ms Froilyn MENDOZA, the Executive Director of Teduray Lambangian Women’s Organization, Inc, Philippines sharing information on the vulnerabilities of non-Muslim minority/indigenous groups in Mindanao, Philippines. She was followed by Attorney Laisa Masuhud ALAMIA, Executive Secretary of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Philippines who delivered a presentation pertaining to the protection of vulnerable groups in the ARMM context and identified challenges which include weak governance, age old conflict, competitions in basic institutions, violent extremism/local conflict, poverty and structural gaps in governance. Dr. Emma LESLIE, Center for Peace and Conflict Studies in Cambodia considered that “vulnerability as a source of conflict in the region” and that structural violence and humiliation (cultural violence) over generations breeds deeper vulnerability making communities populations susceptible to armed struggle, physical violence and instability. Finally, Mr. Cornelius BRUESER, ICRC Regional Migration Adviser, Asia and the Pacific defined the ICRC approach on Migration in a Humanitarian perspective.  He espoused humanitarian diplomacy and explained that ICRC principles on migration focuses on restoring family links, verifying the missing and dignified management of the dead.

The Q&A for the session identified several strategies to minimize the culture of violence:
a. Passing of legislation (Bangsamoro Basic Law in the Philippines)
b. Utilization of social media as a powerful tool in minimizing the culture of violence among the vulnerable groups
c. The convergence of efforts between the states and NGOs. After this, a short coffee break was announced at 1500H until 1515H and was immediately followed by a film showing on another “Faith in Humanity” interview up to 1530H. 
The last session was on “Persons Deprived of their Liberty” and the specific issues were:
a. Particular issues around vulnerable detainees and conditions of detention
b. ICRC’s mandate and work in detention place
c. Key framework on the Treatment of Prisoners, for example Nelson Mandela Rules and Bangkok Rules.
In this session, Mr. Pascal PORCHET was the moderator and the speakers were: Dr Shane Clive BRYANS, ICRC Regional Prison System Advisor, Southeast Asia identified challenges for the persons deprived of their liberty and are therefore vulnerable. He further defined that the challenges include: overcrowding in cells, more complex detainee population, prison estate, regulatory framework and inadequate prison staffing; and Dr Seree NONTHASOOT, Thailand Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights advocated the strengthening of persons deprived of their liberties through creation of regional legal instruments, institutionalization of alternatives to detention and promotion of just and peaceful and inclusive societies.

A Synthesis and Presentation of Recommendations on the Way Forward were facilitated by H.E. Ambassador Elizabeth P. BUENSUCESO, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the ASEAN/Chair, AIPR Governing Council and Mr Christoph SUTTER, ICRC Head of Regional Delegation in Jakarta.   

As part of the Closing Ceremony, Ambassador BUENSUCESO delivered the Closing Remarks and wished the participants safe travels as they returned to their respective countries/posts. The symposium was formally terminated at 1900H.

Based on the presentations and information gained from the event, the participants observed that military medicine entities such as the ICMM play a crucial role in the observance of the IHL in a humanitarian event or during conflict situations.

Among the humanitarian actors, military medical elements or units bring with them the best capabilities and experience in providing health care support to other entities in a conflict environment because they are better equipped, trained, protected, conditioned to thrive in harsh operational environments and their operational reach is considerable in scope (regional and worldwide).

The delivery of health care services in conflict or war ravaged areas are generally difficult but with the capabilities possessed by military medical units, they are dependable and can be relied upon at any given time or place.


The following are the recommendations:

a. ICMM should continue to send representatives to activities like this symposium organized by the ICRC and other organizations/entities involved in the propagation of the International Humanitarian Law in order to synchronize efforts and to foster convergence through cooperation, collaboration, coordination and communication during humanitarian events or any emergencies;

b. For ICMM to further strengthen the collaboration with ICRC and other organizations since the former plays an integral role in advocating “humanitarianism”;

c. For ICMM to continue to include in its regular activities (World and Regional Congresses, seminars, workshops, etc) topics focusing on the observance of the IHL to enable ICMM members to be familiar with the subject and;

d. ICMM members to continue to participate in humanitarian activities wherein the delivery of health care services in conflict or disaster areas is paramount especially when their civilian counterparts are incapacitated.   

Prepared and submitted by:
Lt Colonel MAC
Chief, Medical Logistics Division 
Noted by:

Colonel MC (MNSA)
The Surgeon General


Ltc IBUNA (3rd from left) and BGen ACOSTA (2nd from the right) as ICMM delegates with other participants of the Symposium

BGen ACOSTA (Ret) delivering his presentation in front with the other panelist of the session pertaining to the provision of health care services during humanitarian events.

Another picture of BGen ACOSTA (Ret) delivering his presentation on health care at another angle.

Ltc IBUNA (4th from left) with other participants of the symposium.