Philippines

The human rights implication of internal displacement in the Philippines


Kaloy A. Anasaria
Counter-insurgency operations and related military activities remain as the leading cause of internal displacement in the Philippines from 1997 to 2003. The main area of fighting is in Mindanao, the second largest island in the country, where an active Bangsamoro struggle for autonomy or independence has been going on for the last thirty years. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is today the main armed opposition group in Mindanao since the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) agreed to lay down their arms with the signing of a peace accord with the government in 1996. Military actions against the communist New Peoples Army and other armed groups like the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Pentagon gang which the government has accused of sowing terror activities such as kidnapping, bombings and killing of civilians have forced more people to flee from harm.


Table 1
Years
Number of IDPs
1997
189,000 persons
1998
122,820 persons
1999
200,000 persons
2000
800,000 persons

Table 1. Trends in internal displacement in the Philippines as reported by the Ecumenical Commission on Displaced Families and Communities (ECDFC) to the Global IDP Project of the Norwegian Refugee Council, December 17, 2001

Most of the evacuees are the same people who were forced to flee every time there is fighting or military offensive. In February 2003, around 40,000 civilians have been once again forced to leave their homes and livelihood since the military launched a major offensive against an MILF camp in the southern district of Pikit in North Cotabato. The assault, which is the fourth since 1997 has affected at least 15 villages (out of 42) and disrupted the lives of nearly two-thirds of the 69,000 population of Pikit. Intense air strikes, burning of houses and fighting between the government soldiers and the MILF had spilled over to more than 34 municipalities in 10 provinces. This has brought the number of evacuees to 400,000 over the last six months of 20031.

Many IDPs have reportedly returned since the GRP and the MILF both declared a ceasefire on July 19, 2003. But some 100,000 to 150,000 remain in evacuation centers as of the end of July and an undetermined number of civilians are still staying with relatives and friends, waiting for peace and security situation to improve before going back2. Incidents of displacement have been noted also in Luzon such as in Mindoro and Rizal where military operations against suspected NPA rebels have driven indigenous Mangyans and Dumagats to seek safety in nearby areas3. The high number of IDPs in the country has placed the Philippines on the list of top 40 countries all over the world where internal displacement is considered as a great disaster4.

Government Policy

The government has consistently declared that "as a matter of policy, the AFP did not impose these civilian evacuations." 5 As cited in Par 533, pp. 111 of the Philippine Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1989-2000, Department of Foreign Affairs, July 5, 2002 But in 2000, the "all out war" policy to capture MILF camps by then President Joseph Estrada had caused the mass exodus of 800,000 to one million civilians in Mindanao, making it perhaps the single biggest episode of internal displacement in the country since the second world war. According to authorities, there were a total of 1,023 casualties, of which 517 were dead, 505 were wounded and 1 reportedly missing as a result of the governments total war campaign.6 The magnitude of the families who were driven into mass exodus was so high that it prompted the World Refugee Survey of the US Committee on Refugees to give the distinction to the Philippines for producing the fourth largest number of internally-displaced families in Southeast Asia, next only to Burma, East Timor and Indonesia.7

Due to the extent of human suffering resulting from an official executive decision, among the first declaration made by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she replaced Estrada in February 2001 was to suspend offensive military operations and resume the stalled peace process with the rebel group. However, the cessation of hostilities did not last long. On February 11, 2003. large-scale military operations against rebels have taken place once more under the Arroyo administration. Authorities justified its attack on the MILF camp saying that the soldiers were after members of the Pentagon group, a kidnap for ransom gang. The latter has reportedly found sanctuary in the area controlled by MILF. Shortly after the launching of the military offensive the military acknowledged that the real target was not the criminal gang but was indeed the rebel group.8 The military action has triggered accusations that the military violated the ceasefire agreement it signed with the MILF on August 7, 2001 to the detriment of the civilians caught in the armed conflict. Five months after the military offensive, the DSWD has recorded a total of 422 civilian casualties, 238 of them dead and 184 others injured. Many of the fatalities were children who died of preventable ailments they contracted in congested evacuation centers.

A report of the Peace Assessment Mission in February 2003 joined by Akbayan-Party List Representative Mario Aguja, Commissioner Jean Enriquez of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, Manuel Garduque of Balay Rehabilitation Center, and acclaimed film director Marilou Diaz-Abaya had noted that "the sheer volume of refugees and their terrible situation calls into question the nature and conduct of the AFP operations in Central Mindanao. 9"On the Renewed Hostilities in Central Mindanao and the Need to Save the Peace Process," Privilege Speech of Hon. Mario Joyo Aguja , Akbayan Party List, February 17, 2003"

In his privilege speech before the House of Representatives, Rep. Mario Joyo Aguja raised serious concerns over the apparent ambiguities and contradictions in AFP decision to launch the offensive that has forced tens of thousands of civilians to mass exodus.


"First, the pursuit of criminals is by definition a police operation. Why is the AFP engaged in police operations? Can't the PNP handle the members of the Pentagon Gang? Second, why did the AFP use heavy artillery and howitzers to fire upon entire communities in Pikit? Why did they have to use OV-10 aircraft to drop bombs on target areas? For the information of the Honorable Speaker and my fellow legislators, the OV-10 drops bombs that create craters the size of a house. Why is that necessary to apprehend the fugitives? To my mind, that is like using a huge log in order to remove a tiny mote from an eye."10

Senator Aquilino Pimentel has raised similar questions to Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes. In an interview in the senate last March, he asked the defense chief if he can "honestly say that (the) operations which netted 44 lawless elements dead and 19 soldiers killed, was worth it."11

Sec. Reyes answered:

"When we conduct an operation, we do not merely engage in body count syndrome. The success of an operation cannot be gauged merely on the basis of how many people you were able to neutralize. More important than that is the fact that we were able to deliver a message, a message that in this country, we respect the rule of law and everybody must follow the law. And anybody who goes against the law will be punished. To me, that is the more important overriding long-term result of this operation, among other things, when placed side by side with all other activities that we have had." 12


"That explanation is good for a sound bite, Mr. Secretary," Sen. Pimentel replied. "But to have a collateral damage involving 190,000 or 200,000 people, that is a little too much to expect of a military operation that you would term a success." 13

In a similar manner, the May 17 order of President Arroyo for the military to pursue "punitive actions" against MILF fighters before she went to the US for a state dinner with President George Bush had resulted in more evacuation of civilians. While the rebel group had earned wide condemnation for burning down the public market and taking civilian as hostages in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte and in Maigo, Lanao del Norte, the combination of massive air strikes and mortar shelling has apparently failed to distinguish between military and civilian targets as maybe noted in the streams of evacuees in Lanao and Sirawai areas.

Disturbing Issues

Whether displacement can be avoided altogether in a military operation is "debatable," as Sec. Reyes once said,14 revelations made by a group of military officers that the government is deliberately fomenting the armed hostilities has cast serious concerns on government policy. Known as the "Magdalo mutineers" who were involved in the failed mutiny last July 27, 2003, they accused no less than Defense Secretary Reyes as having a hand in the bombing of the Davao Airport on March 4. Authorities blamed the blast that killed 22 persons on the MILF in an effort to label it a terrorist organization and intensify military actions.15 Sec. Reyes has dismissed the charges against him as "preposterous" aimed at destabilizing the government. President Arroyo immediately formed an investigative commission to look into the accusations made by the disgruntled young officers and to trace those behind the mutiny for prosecution.

In another testimony, Capt. Milo Maestrecampo, one of the five leaders of the mutiny in Makati, said military "higher ups" had given instructions to bomb mosques in Davao City in the aftermath of the bombing of the Sasa Wharf on April 3 which authorities had blamed on the MILF.16 He told the Feliciano Commission, the body formed by the president to hold the probe, that as commander of the 19th Scouth Rangers Company, he was "tasked verbally by my battalion commander" to "prepare a special ops and this is to throw grenades (at) the mosques, These are the mosques which exploded (sic)" dawn of April 3. Maestrecampo, however, said he did not carry out the "unlawful order. 17

Carol Arquillas, Davao-based editor of Mindanews, said: "Three mosques -- in the north, south and downtown area of the city -- were simultaneously attacked at dawn of April 3 in Davao, hours after a powerful bomb exploded outside the seaport in Sasa, killing 16 persons and injuring 55 others. On March 4, a bomb also exploded at the waiting shed of the Davao International Airport also in Sasa, killing 22 persons and injuring over a hundred others. The mosques suffered only minor damages such as shattered windows and nobody was hurt by the attacks which occurred before the 4:30 a.m. worship. But several Moro leaders were abducted and at least three have remained missing to date." 18

Devastating Effects

While the investigative commission is yet to complete its probe and come out with recommendations, the escalation of armed conflict and military offensives have caused devastating impacts on displaced families and communities, hitting hard the children, women and other disadvantaged sections of society. It denies those affected access to land and livelihood, deprives them of shelter and security and shatters their right to live in peace and enjoy their right to development. Recalling some images of the 2000 war in Pikit, Fr. Bert Layson, who had tirelessly cared for the evacuees as parish priest of the Immaculate Conception Church, had this to say:19


"Terrified children, young boys carrying small children on their backs, women clutching their babies, teenage boys on top of carabaos that pulled sledges which carried elderly humans, chickens, and belongings in plastic sacks all together. It was like in the movie Ten Commandments except that they were not going to the Promised Land to live in abundance "with milk and honey," but to evacuation centers where they suffered in deprivation and misery."

"At the height of the war, a young Moro couple left their two children to the care of their relatives in the evacuation center. They managed to return home to their village to harvest some farm crops to augment their meager ration. They never returned to see their two children again. Three days later, their bloated bodies where found floating in their farm lot. The father bore a gunshot wound in the head and the mother in the belly. The mother was seven months pregnant."


Such situation takes a heavy toll on the psychological, emotional, behavioral and social well-being of the people involved, most of whom lived in impoverished and conflict-affected communities, where capacity to take care of these problems is extremely limited. This state of dispossession, deprivation, and human rights violation often leads to a psychosocial trauma which, when left unchecked, results to a more profound distressful condition. In places stricken by ethnic violence, repeated displacement perpetuates a climate of hostility among peoples which feeds on the denial of justice and respect for human dignity.

Reflecting on his experiences with children in situation of armed conflict, Fr. Bert Layson who was awarded the Pax Christi International Peace Prize said:


"The war has succeeded in producing new generation of children who have seen all the ugly images of it and were exposed to violence of great magnitude and who now believe that violence is the best way and only way in resolving conflicts...I have seen young Moro boys stomped the ground and heard them threw vindictive every time they heard 105 millimeter mortars fired toward MILF positions. I wonder if the government has realized that as early as now it must prepare itself for yet another war against those young boys whose father or elder brother may have lost in the war." 20


Humanitarian Protection

It has been a policy of government to ensure the security and safety of civilians in times of internal displacement. Towards this, the AFP coordinates with the DSWD and NGOs to respond to the needs of the evacuees in providing temporary shelters, food, clothing, and medical supplies. Moreover, the AFP has not resorted to food blockades and other tactics that are clearly violative of HR. To this effect, a number of guidelines have been issued by the armed forces and the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) in the conduct of evacuation such as the DND directive of July 15, 1988; AFP Chief-of-Staff Guidelines of September 22 1990; and PHRC Resolution No. 91-001 of March 26, 1991.21 Moreover, the government has also came out with the special protection act for children which recognizes young people as "zones of peace" who must be protected from armed violence at all times.

However, there seems to be a gap between what has been written as a policy and actual practice. For instance, The massive air strike and mortar shelling by government forces against MILF fighters had not only resulted in forced movements of peoples. It also affected their way of life, and drove them to live in abject conditions that poise a great risk to their physical and psychosocial well-being.

The military action in Pikit, North Cotabato on February 11, 2003 had prevented thousands of Muslim civilians from performing their rituals in observance of the Eid'ul Adha, a holy tradition among Muslims worldwide. Three days earlier, Mindanews reported that government soldiers seized in Pikit poblacion at least a hundred sacks of rice on board an Elf cargo truck and another truck loaded with at least 36 heads of goats bound for Barangay Rajamuda intended for the celebration of Eid'ul Adha. According to a Pikit Parish Worker, the sacks of rice seized by the government soldiers were released in the morning after Bai Monera Pendatun, former wife of Maguindanao Rep. Guimid Matalam, negotiated with the Army.

In all episodes of displacement over the last five years, deprivation in evacuation centers due to inadequate government support have been documented. Deaths, sickness and trauma have been common tales of evacuees who survived life in "tent cities," and other temporary settlements.

Accounts on the human rights conditions of evacuees who returned to their communities also abound. A fact-finding mission organized by NGOs, community leaders and village officials in conflict affected areas in Pikit, North Cotabato and Pagalungan, Maguindanao from July 13-15 has yield the following findings pertaining to civil and political rights of IDPS.22

  • Forced return: There is a general feeling of fear and insecurity among evacuees who returned to their barangays in Pikit since June 9. Residents claimed in interviews that they were forced by the Pikit local government to return to their communities even if there was no bilateral ceasefire yet at the time. The return was imposed upon the evacuees combining promises, persuasion and threats such as stopping relief supply in the evacuation centers, bulldozing the centers, non-provision of core shelters and even physical harm. The DSWD and the local government assured returnees that weekly relief supplies with be provided to them in the next three months. As of July 15, 2003, around 80% of the evacuees in Pikit have already returned. As of August 12, many conflict-affected have complained that relief rations hardly reach them anymore.

  • Military presence: Back in their communities, the civilians face a bigger problem, living side by side with military troops whose camps were put up within the barangays. The mission members saw that Marine camps are approximately located from 50 to 100 meters from the core shelters built by government. Given this proximity, it is very likely that civilians will be caught in crossfire in the event of armed clashes with the MILF or other armed groups.

  • War trauma: Civilians say they still prefer the troops to immediately reposition away from their communities so that they could go back to normal lives. War trauma is still present among the returnees. Families cannot sleep well at night. Children are hesitant to return to school because they want to be with their mothers in case bombings and fighting return and they need to evacuate again.

  • Marines near schools and houses: The mission concludes from actual site visits that that the camps/detachments of the First and Second Marine Brigades are located within civilian communities. In Buliok for instance, the 6th Marine Battalion detachment is located within 15 meters from the elementary school. In Bulol, the Marine camp was built within the residential compound of the Barangay Captain which is less than 30 meters away from civilian houses. Marine officers explained that it is easier to protect people when they (people) are closer to them. The officers assured they won't harm civilians but said they cannot guarantee the safety of the civilians because they have no control over the MILF. Two MILF field commanders who were interviewed during the mission meanwhile accused the military of using the civilians as buffer or human shields. They said they only hit military targets but there is no assurance civilians near the targets will not be also hit.

  • Civilian safety: While the mission finds that rehabilitation efforts at constructing core shelters for the evacuees to be laudable, it finds it quite disturbing that the shelters were built near the military camps. What appears to be a purely humanitarian effort has been tainted with military objective. But this proximity has compromised the civilians' safety instead of offering security to the civilians.

  • Lack of privacy: Women evacuees in Barangay Buliok, Pikit expressed dissatisfaction with the clustering of the core houses which are only about 5 meters apart. The close quarters offer little privacy and is likely to cause conflict among neighbors and prevents livelihood initiatives such as raising vegetables or domestic animals. Tuwaw Abdulraham Raof, 45 years old and a mother of five, said that she formerly lived in a ¼-hectare area where she grew vegetables like talong, okra, sekula, amplaya and tended chickens and ducks.

  • Unexploded bombs and land mines: A major war leaves many unpleasant residues, among them unexploded bombs, land mines, ordnance and booby traps in the communities, thus endangering returning civilians. Many villages in Pikit and Pagalungan were the battlegrounds in the February war and both MILF and AFP officers acknowledged the strong possibility of becoming victims of unexploded war materials in the communities. Hadji Faisal, Intelligence Officer of the 105th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), claimed that there are unexploded .105 mm., 81 mm. shells and bombs dropped from OV-10 Bronco air force planes in Kudal, Pagalungan; and in Barangays Bago Inged and Kabasalan, both in the Pikit and Pagalungan side. He said, communities need to be cleared by bomb experts to defuse or deactivate any remaining bombs. The Marine 7th IB commander assigned in Pagalungan also saw the need to conduct clearing operations to secure the civilian areas from these hazardous war implements.

  • Injuries due to explosion: Last June in Barangay Talitay, Pikit, a returnee named Tatuan Mamadra was injured when a 105 mm. howitzer shell exploded in his farm. Mamadra was burning dried grasses to clear his farm for replanting when the blaze apparently set off the shell hidden on the ground. In Sitio Butilen, Kabasalan, Pikit, three civilians- Budsal Sambilang, Nards Maulana and an unidentified resident of Butilen - were injured when they accidentally stepped on booby traps (likely punji sticks) placed near a Marine camp.

  • Militarization and the recruitment and training of paramilitaries (CVOs and CAFGUs) : The mission notes that at the time of the mission on July 13-15, five months after the February assault in Buliok, the municipalities of Pikit, Pagalungan and even the adjacent municipality of Pagalungan remain highly militarized. There are three Marine brigades In Mindanao; two Marine brigades (the First and Second Brigades) were deployed to Pikit and Pagalungan (the Third Marine Brigade is in Sulu). Even if the Marine officers claim the deployed brigades are undersized, the mission was not able to get exact deployment figures. The army's 40th Infantry Battalion also maintains headquarters in Pikit poblacion. Pikit, Pagalungan and Pagagawan are also under the operational area of the MILF's 105th Base Command which claims to have 20,000 armed regulars. However, the 105th Base Command's area also extends to North Cotabato (Tulunan, Matalam, Carmen, Kidapawan, Banisilan and Alamada); Sultan Kudarat (Columbio) and Maguindanao (Sultan sa Barongis, SK Pendatun). Aside from these armed groups, the local government units are also recruiting and training CVOs in Pikit, with the the first batch of 150 CVOs completing their training last June 26. CAFGUs are also being trained under the army's 40 IB. In contrast, Pikit, Pagalungan and Pagagawan have an estimated combined population of about 140,000 or roughly 15,000 families.Confronted with this militarization, many residents proposed to the mission that the military eventually withdraws or at least reposition away from civilian communities. Kagawad Ismael Usman of Brgy. Kudal said: "Now that there is a ceasefire, the military and MILF should go back to their camps so that the civilians can also go back to their own barangays." The presence of troops render meaningless the March 4, 2003 declaration by the Cabinet of 15 barangays in Pikit as "zones of peace", and the well- publicized June 13, 2003 declaration by the President of Brgy. Inug-og, Pagalungan, as a "sanctuary of peace".

  • Restriction on Civilian Movement: Col. Alexander Balutan, commander of the 7th Marine Battalion deployed since March 2003 in Pagalungan, claims that the civilians can freely return to their own barangays. But they are required to log in and out at Marine detachments to ensure their security while inside their barangays and also to prevent the theft of other people's crops. Majority of the residents in Pagalungan and Pagagawan have not yet returned to their own barangays. Those who do harvest crops during the daytime only but log out before nightfall. While residents understand the security measures, many said they feel like thieves sneaking in and out of their own farms. Others complain they don't have enough daytime hours to harvest crops.

  • Marines Staying in Civilian Houses, Mosques: Some civilians in Sitio Sapakan, Buliok in Pagalungan and in Brgy. Kabasalan, Pikit complained that their houses are currently occupied without their consent by the Marines. Returnees to Kabasalan said they were directed to occupy the new core shelters, not their old areas. Kabasalan residents also complain they cannot pray in their mosque because of soldiers camped in the mosque vicinity and a temporary fence constructed as part of Marine security measures.

  • Damage to properties: The mission also noted extensive damage to properties in the fifteen barangays in Pikit, Pagalungan and Pagagawan that the mission visited. A significant number of houses, schools and mosques were damaged either by direct hits from small arms fire, from mortar or artillery shelling, from bombs dropped by planes or from gunship rockets. Civilian houses were burned from aerial bombings and shelling and there were strong indications that many houses were intentionally torched. Farming and fishing implements like fishing boats were also put to the torch. Barangay Captain Samad Mamoalas of Kalbugan, Maguindanao (who accompanied the mission) claims that up to 100 houses were burned in Kalbugan, aside from the PTA building and the village mosque. It should be noted that these damage to civilian properties were committed after the people had evacuated and abandoned their villages, hence the difficulty to substantiate the allegations. Civilians however claim that the AFP troops were the only ones left in the interior barangays after the people had evacuated.

  • Military Caretaker: A mission team was able to get entry to the Islamic Center in Buliok, which Marines had converted into "Camp Obrero", headquarters of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 8. Up to 90 evacuees had already returned to Sitio Midsayap in Buliok, Pagalungan and the Barangay Captain himself had reportedly requested the Marines to put up a detachment in the area to secure the civilians. Lt. Col. Puruji Maang, tactical commander of the Marine 8th Infantry Battalion, informed the mission that the Islamic Center had already been turned over to Sultan Abas Pendatun, who had been designated its caretaker by the President herself. This "turnover" however does not appear to be substantial. The area is still effectively controlled by the Marines; military permission is needed to enter the center and visitors are required to log-in and log out at the Marine guard post located at the camp entrance. Maang in fact had required the mission to get a clearance pass from the Commanding General of the 6th Infantry Division in Cotabato City to get inside the camp. It appears that Sultan Abas Pendatun's caretaker mandate has been limited to maintenance of the Islamic Center. The mission confirmed media reports that the Marines had indeed moved out of the Islamic Center's 1,000-square meter area, but Marines still control the vicinity. Meanwhile, Buliok residents and barangay leaders interviewed by the mission want the Islamic Center turned over to the barangay officials, who will define responsibilities and authority over the custody of the Islamic Center. This arrangement, they said, will enable Muslims to resume religious activities within the center and encourage the return of civilians living in the vicinity.

  • Sanctuary for Peace: The declaration of Barangay Inug-og as a "Sanctuary for Peace" was well publicized with no less than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former President Cory Aquino, along with Cabinet members, diplomats and media present during the launching of the sanctuary last June 13, 2003. Despite the declaration, however, residents are still afraid to return to Inug-og. Some work on their farms during the day but return to their evacuation centers at night for safety. They said they would not return to Inug-og until there is a pullout of troops there because of the possibility of fighting (a major battle occurred this year at the Inug-og bridge where the MILF had set up battle lines.) Inug-og is currently under the operations area of the 7th Marine Battalion. Barangay Kagawad Ali Muray said a sanctuary for peace means that there should be no armed forces whatsoever present in Inug-og. But the June 13 declaration remains, for him, Inug-og's vision or dream for the future, not what they have now. There is also confusion on whether the MILF recognizes the declaration of Inug-og as a sanctuary for peace and will keep away their forces from there.

  • Access to education: Schools opened nation-wide on June 16 this year. Schools also opened that day in the war-affected barangays in Pikit, except for Brgys. Bulol and Kabasalan. To the credit of the DepEd, a school was opened in Brgy. Bulod for the first time since, although it is only for first grade. Expectedly, there was a decrease in enrollment in Pikit as a direct effect of the war in February. Some families have relocated; some children need to help out their parents livelihood, some are still too traumatized to go to school (where they are away from parents). Still another reason is that parents chose not to enroll their children because of the uncertainty of school during war. When evacuee families do return, other immediate concerns like food and housing crowd out education as the priority. Like many other areas in central Mindanao there is in Pikit a shortage of classrooms, school buildings, teachers and schoolbooks (estimated book- user ratio is 1:10). Students especially the children of evacuees lacknotebooks, ballpens, pencils, writing paper and other classroom materials. Education is a problem in the Pagalungan side because evacuees have not been able to return, villages have been abandoned and no schools have opened. Many of the schools have been damaged by the February 2002 war (either from direct hits by artillery or by bombs dropped from planes or gunships, as in the case of Sitio Balongis, Brgy. Kalbugan, Pagalungan) or from disuse in the last five months (Brgys. Kudal and Bago-Inged which were abandoned since 2000). But residents said have not been told of specific rebuilding plans or budgets. In some cases, soldiers wanted to encamp beside the school (the case of Brgy. Inug-og central elementary school where Marines approached school officials of their plan).


Recommendations

At the invitation of the Philippine Government, the Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, Mr. Francis M. Deng, undertook an official visit to the Philippines, from November 6-14, 2002. The objectives of the Representative's mission were to develop a better understanding of the situation of internal displacement in the Philippines through dialogue with the Government, internally displaced persons, civil society, the United Nations team in the country and other international partners and to explore how to enhance national and international responses to the plight of the internally displaced.23

In his discussions with the authorities at the national, regional and local levels, the Representative found out that the government still has to ensure that the implementation of its policies to prevent internal displacement and uphold humanitarian protection is felt on the ground. The following are the recommendations made by the UN Representative.

1. Closing the gap between government policy on internal displacement and implementation on the ground. To bridge the gap between the positive statements of the Government and the conditions on the ground, enhanced formulation, articulation and wider dissemination of a comprehensive and integrated national policy on internal displacement is needed. This should serve to clarify strategies for addressing the problem of internal displacement, including protection and assistance needs, and to facilitate the search for durable solutions. To this end, the organization of a national conference on internal displacement, with the participation of representatives from the Government at the national, regional and local levels, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society, United Nations agencies and other international partners is recommended. The resulting policy and strategies should be widely disseminated throughout the country, especially in areas of displacement outside of the capital, and specifically among internally displaced communities.

2. Establishing appropriate institutional structures and mechanism of coordinated

response. Building upon mechanisms already in place, appropriate institutional structures for addressing displacement issues should be established within the Government at all levels, (central, regional and local), including the appointment of focal points to facilitate coordination within the Government and with United Nations agencies and other partners in the international community on issues of internal displacement.

3. Collecting disaggregated data on the internally displaced population. The collection of disaggregated data is necessary to obtain more accurate information on the internally displaced and their needs, and therefore to target responses more effectively. In this connection, it is also crucial to develop a system to identify the numbers and nature of displacement which reportedly has resulted from anti-terrorism operations currently under way in the country.

4. Strengthening efforts to address the continuing needs of displaced communities and the returnees. Although a significant level of assistance is being provided to the internally displaced by governmental bodies, such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), as well as United Nations agencies, the donor community and NGOs, there is a continuing need for better protection of displaced persons, returnees and host communities. Although the gap between national policies and the level of implementation, particularly in Mindanao, made the affected populations feel isolated, neglected and alienated, the national authorities' recognition of this gap is an important and encouraging first step towards rectifying the situation.

5. Providing assistance for return, resettlement or local integration. During his visit to the areas affected by the conflict in central Mindanao, the Representative noted that significant assistance had been provided for the return and/or resettlement of the displaced. However, in many areas, there was evident lack of basic services. Moreover, most of the returnees had lost assets essential to their subsistence, such as animals or land, in the course of the hostilities. As part of its response to internal displacement, the Government should determine how to ensure the restitution of, or compensation for, lost property. In addition, in light of the trauma evidenced among some displaced persons with whom the Representative met and their expressed wish not to return to their areas of origin until they are entirely clear of military presence, the Government should also support the resettlement and reintegration of those displaced who do not wish to return.

6. Responding effectively to new displacement. While solutions are being pursued for those displaced in 2000, attention must also be given to addressing the new displacement resulting from the anti-terrorism measures. Notwithstanding the sensitivity of the terrorism issue, both the Government and the international community need to take measures to ensure protection against arbitrary displacement and to provide protection and assistance to newly displaced persons.

7. Disseminating and providing training on the Guiding Principles on Internal

Displacement. Training in international humanitarian law and human rights law, including the Guiding Principles, for the security forces, regional administrators and other pertinent officials whose mandates and scope of activities encompass displaced communities should serve to reinforce and enhance the effectiveness of the Government's efforts to address internal displacement. Moreover, the Guiding Principles can be a useful tool for the Government in developing policies, legislation and strategies for dealing with displacement, including providing protection against arbitrary displacement and protection and assistance to displaced persons.

8. Developing a regional approach. Although internal displacement is a domestic problem, in the Philippines there are important linkages with similar patterns in other countries in the region. In this connection, it is worth recalling that the Government, while acknowledging the problem of internal displacement and the need to strengthen its protection role, also recognizes the link between the problem in the Philippines and the situation in neighboring countries and the need to draw lessons and good practices from their experiences. The Representative encourages the Government to act on its proposed initiative to host a regional conference on internal displacement and migration issues and is prepared to cooperate with the authorities on this initiative.

9. Enhancing the role of, and increasing international support for, the United Nations country team. In the Philippines, United Nations agencies have established several working groups which appear to serve as valuable mechanisms for channeling their respective concerns with regard to assistance and protection to internally displaced persons and discussing appropriate responses. However, the Representative is of the opinion that these initiatives need stronger institutional support from all partners to be more effective.

10. Seeking durable solutions to the conflict. Finally, while responding to the immediate protection and assistance needs of the internally displaced is pressing, it must be underscored that, in many instances, the root causes of the conflicts resulting in internal displacement are the acute disparities associated with diversities, the marginalization, underdevelopment and lack of capacity for local governance in the disadvantaged region. These deep-seated causes must also be addressed. The ultimate objective should be to create a national framework which accommodates all groups in the country and ensures the dignity of all peoples irrespective of race, ethnicity or religion. The Representative witnessed a significant degree of willingness on both sides in the conflict to continue their efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. *At the same time, there was clearly a need to promote national awareness of the root causes of the conflict in Mindanao in order to achieve a just, comprehensive and sustainable peace.

Notes:

1 Report of the National Operations Office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), July 24, 2003

2 Ibid

3 Balitang Balay Vol. X No 3 (2002) Vol IX No. 1 (2003)

4 World Refugee Survey by the US Committee on Refugees, 2001

5 As cited in Par 533, pp. 111 of the Philippine Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1989-2000, Department of Foreign Affairs, July 5, 2002

6 Data from the DSWD-Disaster Response Operations and Management Information Center (DROMIC), July 23, 2001

7 World Refugee Survey by the US Committee on Refugees, 2001

8 As reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 17, 2003

9 "On the Renewed Hostilities in Central Mindanao and the Need to Save the Peace Process," Privilege Speech of Hon. Mario Joyo Aguja , Akbayan Party List, February 17, 2003

10 Ibid.

11"I don't feel any guilt or pangs of conscience in this operation' --- Reyes", Mindanews, March 12, 2003 12Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 I don't feel any guilt or pangs of conscience in this operation' --- Reyes", Mindanews, March 12, 2003

15 Mindanews, July 27, 2003

16 "Instruction to bomb mosques came from "the higher ups" by Carolyn O. Arguillas, Mindanews, 13 August 2003

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Poverty And The Absence Of Peace: Two Faces Of Human Rights Violations In The Era Of Globalization (The Mindanao Experience) by Fr. Roberto C. Layson, OMI as published in Balitang Balay, October-December 2001 issue

20 Ibid

21 As cited in Par 533, 539, 544, 546 of the Philippine Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Department of Foreign Affairs, July 5, 2002.

The FFM was organized by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus where Balay is affiliated as a founding member and convenor of its relief and rehabilitation committee. The investigative mission was participated in by 8 NGOs and a number of village officials and community peace advocates. The team gathered first hand information in the conflict affected areas of Inug-ug, Talitay, Rajamuda, Bago Inged, Kudal, Talitay, Kalbugan, Kabasalan, and Buliok.

22 As cited in Par 533, 539, 544, 546 of the Philippine Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Department of Foreign Affairs, July 5, 2002

23 The FFM was organized by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus where Balay is affiliated as a founding member and convenor of its relief and rehabilitation committee. The investigative mission was participated in by 8 NGOs and a number of village officials and community peace advocates. The team gathered first hand information in the conflict affected areas of Inug-ug, Talitay, Rajamuda, Bago Inged, Kudal, Talitay, Kalbugan, Kabasalan, and Buliok.

23 Profiles in displacement: Philippines, Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, February 3, 2003