Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Philippines takes first place in number of new internal refugees (IDPs)

While a number of high profile conflicts such as in Sudan and Sri Lanka continue to generate global media interest, what is happening here in the Southern Philippines remains relatively under-reported, as I highlighted last month on this blog in "Silencing 100,000 Voices". Below is a statement by the Mindanao People's Caucus, an organization I work with, calling attention to this and to the human cost of this war....

Mindanao Peoples Caucus Statement

May 11, 2009
Philippines with the Highest Number of new IDPs in the World:
A Wake Up Call for the Peace Process!

TWO years back, the Philippines has been named one of the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International. In 2008, the Philippines hit a new world record and like the most corrupt record, this new record brings only shame and international concern. According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), a Geneva-based leading international body monitoring conflict-induced internal displacement, the Philippines ranked first in the number of IDPs worldwide by registering 600,000 evacuees in 2008. This figure is higher than that of Sudan (550,000) -- a country similarly long beset by internal armed conflict.

The 600,000 IDPs in Mindanao topped that of Kenya (500,000), Democratic Republic of Congo (at least 400,000), Iraq (360,000), Pakistan (over 310,000), Somalia (300,000), Colombia (270,000), Sri Lanka (230,000) and India (over 220,000).

This comes as a surprise detour for the Philippines which was well into track one of the peace process, having a viable political formula already determined at the negotiating table and a ceasefire which had effectively silenced most of the guns in Mindanao for the last five years. The more than 600,000 internally displaced persons or "bakwits" in Mindanao is a concrete testimony of the human costs of suffering that armed conflict brings especially among the civilian population.

The skirmishes since August 2008 claimed 276 deaths and 138 injuries, said the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC). But the number of civilian casualties is rising. In Datu Piang alone, 168 civilians died in the crossfire between government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), according to the recent record of Bantay Ceasefire.

It has been over nine months since the government launched its military operations against three MILF field commanders and so far, the human costs of such tactical operations, has only succeeded in terrorizing the lives, homes, properties, livelihood and security of hundreds of thousands of civilians. The most horrifying of which was the tragedy that befell the Mandi family. As they traversed a treacherous river in Datu Piang last September 2008 in order to escape from the fighting, they were fired upon by a fighter plane. Six children died instantaneously during the attack, including a pregnant mother and an old man. No one was held responsible for wiping out the entire Mandi family.

Last March 1, two teenagers in Guindulungan, Maguindanao were electrocuted by a live barbed wire serving as a perimeter fence of the detachment of the 46th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army based in Barangay Macasampen, Guindulungan. Based on the Bantay Ceasefire field report, the two victims, named Mentato Mamalinta, 15, and Mohammad Bayan, 14, were riding a cow on their way back to the Tambunan Evacuation Center when the animal set foot on the a barbed wire which was tapped to the service line of the Maguindanao Electric Cooperative. The two victims fell on the same live wire when the animal felt the electric shock.

Having the highest number of IDPs in the world is not something to be proud of. It is a cause of international embarrassment and only shows our collective failure to resolve this raging armed conflict in Mindanao. MPC calls on the government and the MILF to immediately resume the peace talks and bring the negotiation towards a viable political settlement. We urge the government and the MILF to reactivate ceasefire mechanisms following the earlier call of the EU Parliament to expand the mandate of the International Monitoring Team.

MPC also supports the plan of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to establish an independent human rights commission in Mindanao. The independent commission will be of great value in protecting the rights of the ordinary people especially the internally displaced persons who are absorbing the brunt of war and violence caused by this renewed fighting in Mindanao.

It is time to push for the resumption of the peace talks and discuss outstanding issues on the ancestral domain right at the negotiating table. It is time to bring back the International Team and the Joint Ceasefire Committee to enforce and fully implement the ceasefire agreement, it is time to bring those thousands of evacuees back to their homes.

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