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Below are the answers by Philippine presidential candidates Grace Poe, Mar Roxas, and Miriam Defensor Santiago to the questionnaire from Human Rights Watch. The candidates’ responses have been listed in alphabetical order, by the candidate’s last name.
1. What are the most important areas of progress in human rights in the Philippines in the past decade?
In the sphere of human rights, the Philippines has a good track record in ratifying human rights instruments. The Philippines is state party to nine of the ten core human rights instruments. From 2006 to 2016, we ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008) and the Optional Protocol for the Convention against Torture (2012). In 2012, we have enacted the RA 10353 or the Anti-enforced Disappearance Law, which aims to prevent enforced disappearances and provides mechanisms for reparation and redress. However, we have yet to ratify the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Correspondingly, a number of domestic laws were enacted to comply with the State‘s obligation to adopt international norms and standards in promoting, protecting, and fulfilling human rights in the country. There are laws on civil and political rights such as: the RA 9372 or the Human Security Act (2007); the RA 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act (2006); and RA 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity (2009). There are also laws for the protection of vulnerable groups such as RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (2006) and its amending law RA 10630 or the Act Strengthening the Juvenile Justice System in the Philippines; RA 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women (2009); and RA 10070 and RA 10754, both amending RA 7277 or the Magna Carta for Persons with Disability.
Also, RA 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act (2013) was passed. This law provided for the documentation of grave human rights violations perpetrated during martial law. It also provides for mechanisms to indemnify and give due recognition to its victims, as well as memorialization of the lessons learned during the martial law period.
Institutional mechanisms were put in place to address human rights concerns in the country. The Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) was expanded to elevate the human rights agenda in the Government of the day through monitoring and reporting of the fulfillment (or lack of) of human rights obligations. The Aquino Administration also issued Administrative Order (AO) 35 creating a body to address the glaring culture of impunity in the country by taking actions on cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.
Also, under the current administration, the passage of RA 10364, the law which expanded RA 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, strengthened the country‘s campaign against trafficking. As of December 2015, 223 convictions have been handed down.
For the past years, we saw that by fighting corruption, strengthening institutions, and upholding the rule of law above all else, we also protect and promote the rights of every human being.
Laws were passed such as the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, the Reproductive Health Act, the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act in 2012—the first of its kind in Asia—which prevents enforced disappearances and provides means for reparation and redress, as well as the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act in 2013, which provides reparation for thousands of Martial Law victims under the Marcos regime. A high-level interagency committee was also created in 2012 which introduced innovations in case resolution such as improved cooperation between prosecutors and law enforcers.
As result, the Philippines was ranked number one in Asia, number three in the Asia-Pacific region, and number 29 out of 167 countries, in terms of government efforts and programs to combat TIP, according to the 2014 Global Slavery Index of the Walk Free Foundation in Australia.
The Philippines has made broad strides in human rights policy in the past decade. In 2009, three important laws were passed: Republic Act No. 9710 also known as the Magna Carta of Women, which seeks protect the rights of Filipino women and eliminate discrimination; R.A. No. 9745, also known as the Anti-Torture Act, which penalizes torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment; and R.A. No. 9851, or the Philippine Act on Crimes against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes against Humanity. I authored these bills at the Senate.
In 2011, the Philippines became party to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, and pledged to take steps toward accession to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. That same year, we became party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
R.A. No. 10354, or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, which I co-sponsored in the Senate, was enacted in 2012. It aims to reduce maternal and infant mortality. R.A. No. 10368, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act and R.A. No. 10361, or the Kasambahay Law, were also approved that same year. I supported both measures as senator. We also became the first country in Asia to pass an Anti-Enforced Disappearances Law (R.A. No. 10353) that year. I was one of the authors of the bill in the Senate.
In 2014, authorities arrested former general Jovito Palparan, who is accused in the abduction of two student leaders Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan. It was a breakthrough for human rights victims who have long accused the military of perpetrating violence against activists.
2. What are the biggest human rights challenges facing the country?
The current context of our country is characterized by a climate of impunity, where perpetrators are not punished and victims are denied justice, including social injustice, and where the poor and marginalized are further pushed to the margins of society, resulting in failure to achieve an adequate standard of living.
  1. Plunder and corruption are major human rights issues in the country; deprive the people of much needed resources for basic services; and deny everyone from having a life of dignity.

    Transparency International, through its Corruption Perception Index (2014), ranks the Philippines at 85 out of 175 countries. Corruption, including malversation of funds, robs the government of the opportunity to optimize its gains and to properly appropriate resources that would benefit the greater population, pushes us to deeper poverty, and denies the people of a life of dignity. Poverty affects us in ways that hinder us to hone and fully develop our potential.

  2. Discrimination on any ground, i.e., based on age, sex, religion, economic or political affiliation and other status, continues to be prevalent and is the systemic cause of inaccessibility of services.

    Discrimination must be eliminated since it breeds violence and puts at risk the physical integrity and security of those discriminated against, like LGBTs, women, and children. Hate crimes and violence against women and their children are instances of gender-based violence that are rooted in discrimination.

  3. Extrajudicial killings (EJK), enforced disappearances (ED), and torture continue and remain unresolved. Death squads are tolerated in some areas of the country.

    ​Despite the efforts of the military and the police in ensuring the physical integrity and security of people, instances of grave human rights violations as mentioned above continue. Militants, IPs, and journalists are the usual targets.

# of
5 (frustrated)
2 (frustrated)
(Source: Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, accessed at on 16 March 2016)
  1. Poverty is a human rights issue since it is a deprivation of the right to an adequate standard of living and a life of dignity. Those who are more vulnerable are pushed further into poverty by reason of their circumstances. The vulnerable include women, persons with disabilities, elderly, indigenous peoples, and internally displaced persons.

    Today, there remain an estimated 1.5 million informal settler families in need of housing (NISUS Final Report, 2014). 2,469,000 Filipinos are unemployed and 7,849,000 underemployed (PSA, January 2016). 1.2 million children aged 5 to 15 are not enrolled in schools (2015 SONA Technical Report). According to a 2015 SWS survey, 11.7% or 2.6 million Filipino families are hungry.

  2. The people continue to be denied access to justice and effective remedies in cases where their rights have been violated.

Despite our efforts, we recognize that there are still cases that demand fair and timely resolution. These include extrajudicial killings, abuses inflicted against indigenous peoples such as the Lumads in Mindanao, the 2010 Maguindanao massacre, and the 2015 Mamasapano incident.
While we have made progress in disbanding private armies, we need to intensify present efforts as initiated by the President Aquino through Memorandum Circular No. 83, which created the National Task Force for the Disbandment of the Private Armed Groups in the Areas of the Proposed Bangsamoro Region and the Adjacent Regions IX and XII.
To get the results that we all want, we need to ensure that the wheels of justice are moving and that law is strictly enforced to protect the right of every Filipino, regardless of age, sex, class, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity, at every stage and in every condition.
Policies aimed at promoting human rights are meaningless unless fully and wholeheartedly implemented. Despite its adoption of the Anti-Torture Act, for instance, the Philippines has yet to convict perpetrators of torture. The government is also facing hurdles in the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law amid a Supreme Court hold order on contraceptive implants and budget cuts by Congress.
The culture of impunity threatens to perpetuate human rights abuses. Cases that need to be immediately resolved include the continuous disappearance of activists working in the countryside, allegedly because of military operations; the deaths of some 50 media workers in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao in 2009; and the recent deadly skirmish between elite cops and Moro rebels in Mamasapano.
Another challenge is the protection of the rights of vulnerable members of society. Child labor allegedly remains rampant, with underage workers reported even in the most dangerous of sectors such as small-scale mining. Children are also reportedly being recruited by rebel, terrorist, and paramilitary groups. In the aftermath of disasters, stories of abuse against children and women abound.
The Philippines must address with urgency the militarization of indigenous communities. At the Senate, I have filed several resolutions seeking inquiries in aid of legislation on reports that thousands of indigenous peoples in Mindanao are being forced out of their homes allegedly by the Armed Forces, or groups that they sanction. Violence in these communities have also shut down schools.
3. How should the government deal with the problem of impunity, by which members of the security forces implicated in serious abuses go unpunished?
Our steps include the following:
  • Strengthen civilian oversight of the two institutions, starting with the improvement of their internal affairs offices.
    • Strengthen internal institutional accountability units like the PNP Internal Affairs Service and AFP Office of Ethical Standards and Public Accountability.
  • Reform and enable the National Police Commission (which exercises supervision over the Philippine National Police) and the Department of National Defense to mete sanctions to erring corps members according to law and their honor codes.
  • Strengthen the Internal Affairs Service (IAS) of the Philippine National Police hierarchy by:
    • Granting IAS the authority to impose disciplinary sanctions, subject only to review, in limited cases, by the National Police Commission
    • Streamlining the procedures to be followed and imposing timelines on the IAS in administrative disciplinary cases
  • Strictly enforce the vetting process or clearance from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) of members of the security sector who aspire for professional promotion by making sure that aspirants have no record of human rights violation.
  • Study the institutionalization of reparation mechanisms of grave human rights violations similar to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board created under R.A. 10368.
According to our laws, the abuse of one’s authority merits heavier penalties. In such cases, we will ensure that swift, timely, and thorough investigations will be conducted and that offenders will be penalized to the fullest extent of the law. We will implement the Anti-Torture Law without prejudice.
We will also strengthen the judicial system to ensure the fair and equitable application of the law, while at the same time protecting the judiciary’s independence. As such, men and women of probity, competence, impartiality, and integrity will be appointed to the ten Supreme Court Justice positions that will be vacated under the next administration.
A strong Freedom of Information Law will help lift the veil of secrecy in the military, which is implicated in several cases of human rights violations—torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. We must ensure that the national security provision, which limits Freedom of Information, will not prevent the court or human rights agencies from ordering investigations on the military with regard to alleged abuses. As president, I will certify as urgent the passage of the FOI Law. Pending congressional approval, I shall issue an executive order that will implement the principle of freedom of information in the bureaucracy.
4. What actions should be taken to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, the so-called Lumads around the country, particularly in Mindanao?
The Lumad issue is connected to the issue of development aggression, where businesses and their operations are offered security by the government through the creation of Special CAFGUs (Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit) which protect mining concerns and enterprises in the name of anti- insurgency against groups like NPA. As a result, Lumads have been victims of displacement from their ancestral domains and other human rights crimes because of the conflict between military and paramilitary groups. From 2001 to September 2015, there are 35 cases of extrajudicial killings involving 59 IP members in Mindanao, as cited by the Commission on Human Rights.
Our goal is to attain the full realization of the rights of the Lumads, particularly their right to development and participate in the development process. Our steps include the following:
  • Seek demilitarization of armed groups including the New People‘s Army in Lumad communities. The scope of demilitarization must include indigenous meeting places, sacred grounds, and other community-owned institutions, schools, barangay halls, and health centers with the help of AFP/DND, OPAPP, NCIP and DILG.
  • Review EO. 264 providing for the ―Citizen Armed Force‖ and dismantle Private Armed Groups (PAGs) as well as go after its patrons.
  • Work with the provincial and city LGUs and DSWD in the provision of social services in response to the needs of Lumads in their evacuation centers, including the improvement of camp management systems; food assistance with priority towards vulnerable sectors such as pregnant women, infants, persons with disabilities; alternative livelihood assistance in evacuation centers; provision of health, water, sanitation, hygiene services, and complete temporary shelter supplies; and public awareness regarding their current struggles.
  • Facilitate resumption of learning of Lumad students in evacuation centers and provide for short-term arrangements to make temporary conducive and culturally-sensitive learning environments.
  • Deliver justice to all IP victims of political-economic conflicts through a stronger National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) and Department of Justice (DOJ). We will pursue an immediate investigation and prosecution of all involved groups responsible for the deaths and sufferings of indigenous peoples due to political-economic conflict.
  • In the long-term, we will institutionalize an interagency body that will address the situation of IPs in unstable situations and their socioeconomic needs. The Body will review conflicting policies and programs and seek consensus over a coherent response. Representatives will come from DSWD, DILG, DOH, DepEd, NCIP, PNP, AFP, NEDA, DTI, concerned LGUs, NGOs, and aid agencies.
  • Guarantee the full participation and due recognition of the rights of indigenous people in the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). If the autonomy and self-governance of the Bangsamoro is acknowledged, so too should the IP’s right to self-determination be recognized.
  • Re-align the national development agenda with the right to development of indigenous peoples by ensuring the latter‘s participation in development decision-making processes.
The law should be enforced to establish order and prevent all kinds of violence committed against anyone. As such, we will continue to strengthen our systematic crime fighting campaign called Oplan Lambat-Sibat—a deliberate, programmatic, and sustained effort to maintain peace and order, composed of both wide dragnet and intel-targeted operations.
To ensure that all Filipinos are free from fear, we need to implement all existing laws that protect human rights; strengthen institutions and organizations that provide care and assistance to the victims of the offended party; modernize our law enforcement agencies and improve our prosecution services; continue reforms and innovations in the justice sector (e.g. Justice Sector Coordinating Council, Justice Zone, and Hustisyeah); and enhance our correctional and rehabilitation facilities.
My government will review state sponsorship of militias and paramilitary groups, especially amid allegations that they are the ones behind recent violence in indigenous communities. I have filed several resolutions seeking Senate investigations on the reports of displacement of the Lumads and the military closure of schools in indigenous communities in Mindanao. More recently, I also condemned in the strongest terms the alleged arson of the Lumad evacuation center in Davao City.
5. What is your view of the Reproductive Health Law? The recent decision of Congress to delete specific budgetary allocations for the delivery of family-planning services to poor families has prevented the law from being implemented.
In 2013, I stated that “the RH law is a good progress in our struggle to address the high prevalence of maternal deaths in the country. I believe, however, that the RH law can still be strengthened by introducing new provisions that would allow Filipino couples to receive financial assistance in their efforts to conceive a child. The concept of ‘reproductive health’ should also include couples who are having difficulties conceiving a child naturally.”
Our steps include the following:
  • Support the full implementation of RH Law especially for the benefit of poor families, women, and the youth. The Congressional budget cut effectively bars poor women access to contraceptives, thereby upending a major provision of the law.
  • Ensure compliance by local governments of the Reproductive Health Law, by making available and accessible reproductive health services, including family planning and contraception, and birthing facilities.
  • Increase utilization of RH-related packages under PhilHealth such as the maternal care package, etc.
The Reproductive Health Law is one of the landmark reforms of this administration. We will ensure the full implementation of this law so that it serves the purpose for which it was enacted, including the appropriate budgetary support that it requires.
When I am president, I shall work to fully and conscientiously implement the Reproductive Health Law, which I co-sponsored in the Senate. It is irreconcilable that Congress, which enacted the RH Law after much hardship in 2012, would three years later render that same law inutile. The P1-billion budget cut threatens to deprive some seven million women of reproductive health services. This abandonment is immoral in a country where some 200 out of 100,000 women who give birth die.
6. How do you think the government should deal with killings of journalists, many of them in apparent retaliation for reporting on corruption and poor governance?
According to Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), 77 journalists were killed since 1992 in line with their work. This seriously impinged on their right to freely express their opinion, not to mention violations of the paramount right to life.
Our steps include the following:
  • Review AO 35, series of 2012, and strengthen investigation and prosecution of grave human rights violations and address impunity.
  • Support the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of cases, especially those involving grave human rights violations and corruption to increase access to justice towards fair and prompt resolution, including the creation of a separate, quasi-judicial reparation mechanism.
See answer to Question No. 4
With a Freedom of Information Law, journalists will be better armed with the truth, their biggest defense against threats. Besides enacting the FOI, however, the government must address impunity with regard to extrajudicial killings. Individuals whose illicit transactions are unveiled by the press are emboldened to kill by the knowledge that they can get away with it. Certainty of arrest, prosecution and punishment will act as deterrent to extrajudicial killings.
7. How will you address the summary killings by so-called death squads, some having links to local authorities, in urban centers across the Philippines?
In 2007, the Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, visited the country prompted by the apparent state sponsored killings or unlawful executions of leftist activists, journalists, suspected criminals. In his 29 April 2009 report, ―[p]erhaps the most troubling development over the past two years has been the rise in death squad killings in Davao City. Reliable information indicates that, in 2008, such killings were almost a daily occurrence in Davao City, jumping from a reported 116 in 2007 to 269 in 2008. The killings have clear patterns – similarly described perpetrators, victims and methods – and are rarely the subject of successful police investigations.
Our steps include the following:
  • Strengthen participatory mechanisms to enhance the capacities of the public to demand accountability of erring public servants.
  • Review AO 35, series of 2012, and strengthen investigation and prosecution of grave human rights violations and address impunity.
  • Strengthen our program on crime prevention, including strengthening the five pillars of justice—the community, law enforcement, prosecution, the courts, and the corrections.
  • Modernize, capacitate and equip the PNP to increase police presence, installation of CCTVs, and repair of streetlights, among others.
  • Conduct education drives focusing on the most vulnerable of the society, as well as delivery of basic services.
  • Study the institutionalization of reparation mechanisms of grave human rights violations similar to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board created under R.A. 10368.
See answer to Question No. 7
We need a swift review of all programs and projects of government—including those in the Department of Justice and the Commission of Human Rights. This review will cover the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, as created by Administrative Order No. 35. We shall seek to increase the involvement of the Commission on Human Rights in the committee.
8. Years after the passage in 2009 of the anti-torture law, not one perpetrator of torture has been convicted even as reports of torture by state security forces continue to surface. What actions should be taken to ensure that this law is enforced?
On 29 March 2016, Police Officer 2 Jerick Dee Jimenez was convicted for torturing Jerryme Corre. This is the first conviction for violation of RA 9745 or the anti-torture law.
Our steps include the following:
  • Strengthen the intervening role of the Commission on Human Rights in cases of torture, from taking inventory of apprehended individuals to conducting investigation.
  • Strengthen implementation of RA 9745, including conduct of impartial investigation. Oftentimes investigations involve the participation of uniformed men and women who may belong to the same institution forming the subject of the investigation.
See answer to Question No. 3
Under my administration, a national quick response hotline will be introduced for enforced disappearances and torture. We must also implement a strong witness and whistleblower protection program to facilitate the prosecution of cases, especially against state agents. I will also seek to insulate the justice system from influence or threat from other government agencies, particularly the Armed Forces and the police.
9. How will you address the plight of tens of thousands of Filipinos who remain displaced as a result of armed conflict between government and rebel forces, specifically in Zamboanga City and the provinces of Maguindanao, Davao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur?
As of May 2015, 28,200 people are still displaced due to the Zamboanga siege in 2013. About 3,100 of all displaced persons are staying in the evacuation center inside the Grandstand sports complex, while about 13,800 have moved to 10 transitional sites. In addition, over 11,300 internally displaced people (IDPs) are hosted by relatives or friends, or are renting temporary homes with rental assistance. There are about 1,200 IDPs in Tandag, Surigao del Sur.
Our steps include the following:
  • Initial and long-term responses to a conflict must be planned hand-in-hand. Other than on-site response during a conflict, preventive measures must be prioritized.
  • Push for the passage of HB 4744 or the ―Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Act.‖
  • Prioritize the temporary shelters/transitional camps for IDPs of armed conflicts in Zamboanga, Maguindanao and other conflict regions and ensure that these areas of resettlement shall be decent and humane.
  • Direct LGUs to provide an avenue for IDPs who remain in transitional camps to achieve durable solutions, which will result in the provision of a permanent and culturally acceptable settlement and where basic services, employment or livelihood opportunities, education, and health care are available and accessible.
  • Attend to the special needs of women, children, elderly, and people with disabilities.
    • Protect women against violence in centers.
    • Prioritize the needs of children-victims of calamities.
    • Build a Special Needs Shelter (SNS) designed to be elderly-friendly in terms of physical accessibility and services delivery.
    • Develop a modified rescue transport vehicle to safely evacuate people with disabilities who use wheelchairs or other assisted devices.
  • Push for the peace process, which will ultimately alleviate the situation in Mindanao to address war and violence that displace people in the country, to include structural responses to systemic violence and transitional justice mechanisms.
We will continue the rehabilitation of these communities and deliver basic services, particularly quality, affordable, and safe housing, so displaced families and individuals can truly live their lives free from hunger, free from fear, and free to dream.
We recognize that many conflict-affected areas need massive investments in infrastructure to spur development that can lead to their people’s prosperity. Government services such as education and healthcare should reach the people, especially in the less-developed areas.
But in the long term, our goal is to achieve true and lasting peace, especially in Mindanao through the establishment of a progressive and inclusive Bangsamoro region.
Congress must pass swiftly the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Act. Local government units must also be empowered to provide not only emergency shelters and assistance but also temporary sources of livelihood. Ultimately, however, we must resolve the armed rebellion throughout the country. This will be done through dialogue between government and rebel groups.
10. What steps should the government take to address the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Philippines, which some experts say is the worst in the region, if not the world?
As of November 2015, there were a total of 29,706 HIV cases in the Philippines. Recognition of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the areas with the highest rates of cases (NCR, Cebu and Davao etc.) should be done by local government units and in turn be acted upon through preventive strategies.
Our steps include the following:
  • Allocate funds, through the Department of Health, for the study and medical treatment of HIV/AIDS, especially in public hospitals. City Health Centers and Rural Health Units will conduct free HIV testing to the public with the assurance of privacy, to be funded by the DOH and LGUs.
  • Local and public hospitals and health centers should have access to ART (antiretroviral treatment) and other medications related to HIV/AIDS.
  • Improve monitoring mechanisms to ensure accurate data on HIV/AIDS cases, as well as early detection of signs, counseling, and health benefits to adequately inform and prepare families.
  • Provide programs and seminars to parents and children (specifically minors) for appropriate guidance and monitoring of their children with regards to HIV/AIDS etc.
  • Massive public information dissemination and educational campaigns to create the needed changes in behaviors and attitudes, towards eliminating discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and those at risk of HIV, including eliminating gender-based discrimination that places certain groups at higher risk of contracting HIV.
We will expand the coverage of PhilHealth to reduce the out-of-pocket expenses of those undergoing or seeking treatments for complications caused by HIV/AIDS and other conditions. This will require increased investment on government services to prevent, detect, and treat such cases.
We will also increase the number of health units in communities all over the country to provide primary, preventive, and curative health services. This includes providing all Filipinos with accurate information to protect their health and guide their lifestyles.
I have filed Senate Bill No. 2728, or the Stop AIDS in Prisons Act; S.B. No. 2827, which will allow minors aged 15 to 17 to consent to testing under specific circumstances; and S.B. No. 2546, which will involve the National Youth Commission in the National AIDS Council. I have also filed several resolutions urging the government to declare a national emergency on HIV/AIDS. These have unfortunately languished at the committee level.
A national emergency will allow the national government to quickly disburse funds to mitigate the spread of HIV/AIDS. The effective implementation of the Reproductive Health Law is also expected to ease the HIV/AIDS situation in the country. In addition, the government must encourage voluntary testing and implement educational programs that will eliminate social stigma.

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