Notes on the phenomenon of internal displacement in the Philippines, 2001

The Philippines ranks as the third country in Southeast Asia with the most number of internally displaced persons (IDP). According to the report of the US Committee for Refugees (USCR) World Refugee Survey released at the end of 2001, Burma is on top of the list because of the number of people driven from their homes by armed conflict and violations of human rights by the ruling military junta. Indonesia comes next, followed by the Philippines.
Noting that the forced movement of people is one of the sordid face of human rights violations in the world today, the USCR survey has placed the world's internally displaced population to be at least 20 million people. They have identified 41 countries all over the world where mass exodus of people are pervasive. The Philippines is number 28 on the list. The Committee has noted that the main reasons behind this forcible movement of peoples is armed conflict, generalized situation of violence and atrocities against human rights.

In the Philippines, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) offensives against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) positions in Mindanao caused most of the displacement in 2001. Many of the displaced persons have sought refuge in government-managed evacuation centers. Others moved in with their relatives in places far from the armed clashes. Some migrated in other parts of the country.

Internally displaced persons are distinct from refugees in a way that the latter are compelled to leave their homes and cross an international border to seek safety in another state. On the other hand, IDPs move within the confines of their national territory to escape from persecution or harm.

Refugees are accorded international legal protection through the Refugee Act of 1958. The rights of the IDPs are recognized by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID) adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1998.

The Guiding Principles, which draws heavily from human rights provisions found in the International Bill of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, recognizes that the primary responsibility of protecting the rights of IDPs rests upon state authorities. The 30 principles of Ungpid set the legal framework for IDP's rights in cases prior to their displacement, during displacement, humanitarian assistance and return and rehabilitation.

Some of the most notable principles in the Ungpid that bear relevance to displacement situation in the Philippines are the following:

1. Internally displaced persons shall enjoy, in full equality, the same rights and freedoms under international and domestic law as do other persons in their country. They shall not be discriminated against in the enjoyment of any rights and freedom on the grounds that they are internally displaced. (Principle 1.1)

2. National authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons within their jurisdiction. (Principle 3.1)

3. Certain internally displaced persons, such as children, especially unaccompanied minors, expectant mothers, mothers with young children...shall be entitled to protection and assistance required by their conditions and to treatment which takes into account their special needs. (Principle 4.2)

4. Every human being have the right to be protected against being arbitrarily displaced from his or her home or place of habitual residence. (Principle 6)

5. The authorities undertaking such displacement shall ensure, to the greatest practicable extent, that proper accommodation is provided to the displaced persons, that such displacements are effected in satisfactory conditions of safety, nutrition, health and hygiene, and that members of the same family are not separated (Principle 7.2)

6. Displacement shall not be carried out in a manner that violates the right to life, dignity, liberty and security of those affected (Principle 8)

7. States are under particular obligation to protect against the displacement of indigenous peoples, minorities, peasants, pastoralists and other groups with a special dependency and attachment to their lands (Principle 9).

8. Every human being has the inherent right to life which shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life (Principle 10.1)

9. Internally displaced persons, whether or not their liberty has been restricted, shall be protected in particular against rape, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment...(Principle 11.2.1)

10. Every human being has the right to liberty and security of persons. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention (Principle 12)

11. Internally displaced persons have the right to be protected from against forcible return to resettlement in any place where their life, safety, liberty and/or health would be at risk (Principle 15.d).

12. All internally displaced persons have the right to an adequate standard of living, such as access to potable water and essential food, basic shelter, appropriate clothing, essential medical services and sanitation (Principle 18)

13. All wounded and sick internally displaced persons as well as those with disabilities shall receive to the fullest extent practicable and with least possible delay, the medical care and attention they require...When necessary, they shall have access to psychological and social services (Principle 19.1)

14. The primary duty and responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons lies with national authorities (Principles 25)

15. Competent authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to establish conditions as well as provide means, which allows internally displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country. Such authorities shall endeavor to facilitate the reintegration of returned or resettled internally displaced persons (Principle 28)

Based on the Guiding Principles, there is still much for state authorities to do in order to improve its observance of the rights of internally displaced as the following report will show.

1. At the end of 2001, government records show that the remaining number of internally displaced persons (IDP) caught in the armed conflict in Mindanao is at least 67,292. This figure is 5.6 percent of the 1,200,855 persons affected since the government declared the "total war" policy in March 2000. 1Based on a report furnished by the Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Center (DROMIC) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) dated January 23, 2002.

2. The DSWD reported that there are only two remaining evacuation centers are serving a total of 1,912 persons at the end of the year. They consider the rest of the evacuees as still displaced but temporarily staying with their relatives or other settlements and have not returned to their place of origin.

Location of IDPs
No. of Persons
Dawah Evacuation Center, SK, Maguindanao
Mahad Alisone, Parang, Maguindanao
IDPs Outside. of Evacuation Centers Maguindanao
Lanao del Sur
North .Cotabato
Sultan Kudarat
Total No. of Remaining IDPs

3. Field reports from Balay regional office note that there are a number of evacuation centers in Pikit, North Cotabato, such as the Pikit Mahad, Pagalungan, Pagagawan, which have been considered as closed by DSWD despite the presence of displaced persons. A reason offered by authorities is that the evacuees have opted to resettle in those areas for various reasons, notable among them is their lingering fear over their safety in their place of origin. An implication of this is that these IDPs may no longer get priority relief and rehabilitation services because they are thought to have relocated already.

4. One of the reasons why the IDPs refuse to return is the existence of unexploded ordnance and land mines in their place of origin. Balay has called on government authorities to clear of unexploded ordnance and land mines the villages that were caught in the war between soldiers and fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Central Mindanao. Land mine explosions are believed to be behind the injuries sustained by five persons in Barangay Tiba, Matanog town in Maguindanao. The residents could not tell which group was behind the planting of the land mines at the height of the Estrada administration's all-out war last year against the MILF. But the evacuees from the villages of Sarakan, Sapal, Sarmiento, Tiba, Langkong and Minantao, all in Matanog, Maguindanao, refused to go back home because of fear for their safety. 2

5. Caseworkers of Balay-CMR office found out during their investigation in Barangay Tiba on Oct. 26 and 27 that a certain Kamad, a 40-year-old farmer, was injured when a land mine exploded while he was gathering coconuts in June. Not long after that, four persons from the same area were wounded when another land mine exploded while they were clearing their farm. The victims were identified as Mando Paro, 40; Asim Sarigon, Mukamad Sarigan and his 11-year-old son Nasrudin. The Balay staff assisted the victims to get medical attention. They also called the attention of the military and the office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to do something to rid the affected areas of explosives left behind by the combatants. The Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL) have sought the cooperation of Balay in this undertaking. According to evacuees, particularly from Dawah Center in Crossing Simuay in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao, they would remain hesitant to return home unless their safety are guaranteed.. Hundreds of civilians displaced by the military operations are also temporarily residing along the Narciso Ramos Highway. They are apprehensive of going back to their place of origin because of the presence of military troops.

6. Though President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has lifted the all out military assaults against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in February 2001, armed clashes between members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the various Moro fronts continue to force thousands of civilians to leave their homes and farms to escape from harm. Military operations against the dreaded Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan and Sulu, and the Pentagon kidnap gang in North Cotabato also contribute immensely to the number of civilians caught in the crossfire. Based field reports from Balay regional offices and data obtained from DROMIC as of November 22, 2001

Areas Affected
No. of Displaced Persons
Due To
Lamitan,Tuburan, Maluso, Lantawan, Sumisip, Tipo Tipo, Isabela City in Basilan Province (Region IX); Pangutaran Island and Talipao in Sulu (ARMM), Puerto Princesa
96, 668
Series of military operations against Abu Sayyaf, especially following their assault and hostage-taking in Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan.
The failed attempt of military to crush the bandit group when they siege the Luis Torres Hospital and kidnapped a nurse in Lamitan.
Subsequent clashes with soldiers trying to rescue the captives who had also taken an American missionary couple for ransom.
The incidents also took place in the context of the government crackdown against suspected Abu Sayyaf supporters in July. More than 100 people were detained without charges at the heels of the government's declaration of a "state of lawlessness" in Basilan, that led to the torture of dozens of civilians suspected to be ASG sympathizers.
Municipalities of Jolo, Patikul, Indanan, Parang in Sulu Province; Cabatangan, in Zamboanga City
Armed clashes between government forces and Moro rebels loyal to MNLF founding chairperson Nur Misuari. The military carried out a series of bombing operations in civilian population they considered as lairs of MNLF. Government and military authorities branded the MNLF-Misuari group as "terrorists" to justify their military campaign that drove civilians villages in mass exodus. Local and international reactions especially coming from the Islamic communities prompted President Arroyo to recognize the role of Misuari in advancing the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination and the forging of the 1996 Peace Accord.
12 villages in Pikit, North Cotabato
Military authorities said that their actions are directed against the Pentagon kidnap gang, something that they did not do when the criminal band abducted and killed a Chinese engineer in October. No kidnappers have been arrested in that operation, but the soldiers were able to stab deeper into the perimeter areas of Camp Rajamuda of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, threatening the already shaky peace talks between the government and the MILF.

7. War and armed conflict have produced civilian casualties. Government records have shown that 517 people have died since the armed conflict erupted between government forces and rebels in Mindanao in 2000. The atrocities of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf group and the military actions against it have also resulted in civilian casualties.

It is likely that that the number of casualties is higher since there could be fatalities not reported, especially those who died at the height of the fighting, during evacuation, and those who succumb to sickness in evacuation centers. The government data did not indicate the reasons behind the deaths they reported. It is possible that those who died due to sickness in evacuation centers are not thoroughly documented. At least eight children died in the evacuation centers in Pikit alone due to various ailments in November 2001.

No. of Dead
No. of Injured
Western Mindanao
Southern Mindanao
Central Mindanao
Source: DROMIC as of January 23, 2002

7. Psychosocial distress is also very apparent among the people in and out the evacuation centers especially to the vulnerable groups like the children, women, and elderly. The horrible images of death, violence, and destruction in the war zones continue to haunt the minds of these people. Those who lost a family member or the children orphaned by thewar are the most ridden with anguish and despair. Grief, anxiety, and depression are among the most observable behavior of the traumatized evacuees. Sad to say, these gloomy conditions continue until this day.

8. While the people have expressed outrage over the atrocities committed by the Abu Sayyaf, military operations to crush the terror group have resulted in reports of human rights violations. In July 2001, the government declared a "state of lawlessness" in Basilan that allowed government forces to hold warrantless arrests. Witnesses described the operation as "house to house," and confirmed news reports that police and soldiers accompanied by hooded "spotters" pick up civilians suspected to be ASG symphatizers. More than 30 persons have been reportedly arrested in Basilan, 100 others were said to be picked up in Zamboanga on the first wave of the mass arrest that continued for several days. Witnesses said that the targets are the menfolk who were taken without warrants.

Among those subjected to the surprise raids were the villages of Tabuk, Sumagdang, Calle Posporo, Marketsite, Kaumpurnah, in Carbon, Malamawi. Other barangays in Lamitan, Lantawan, Maluso and Isabela City were not spared.

On July 15, seven more civilians were taken to the 103rd Army headquarters in Tabiawan, Isabela City, our source said. Their hands were reportedly tied behind their backs, though they were not hurt in front of their neighbors. The Commission on Human Rights office in Region IX was so appalled by the conduct of the crackdown. A newspaper quoted them as saying that the military operations were "Gestaspo-type."

While many of those arrested earlier have been released, around 90 persons, suspected as Abu Sayyaf supporters, are still being kept in Basilan Provincial Jail. NGOs reported that they are restricted from seeing the detainees. When Balay and other NGOs were given the chance to visit the jail on September 22 and 25, they were able to confirm the complaints of torture which were kept by authorities from the media. The following is the summary of the victims' testimonies based on actual interviews and physical examination of 20 detainees (the names of the tortured detainees can be made available upon request).

A bottle of gasoline with chili pepper applied to victim's eyes, armpit, ears, nose and other parts of his body Victim's head covered with plastic and tightened with masking tape Denial of food and water
A bottle of gasoline with pepper was applied to victim's penis, and anus (Done for three days during interrogation) Semi -- hanging of the victim with the rope placed around the neck while undergoing interrogation Denial of sleep
Victim's one leg resting straight forward and the other is bended at the back while his hands are tied at his back. (interrogation for 6 straight hours) Victim blindfolded for more than a week
Victim was hit with metal water pipe on the knees, hands, fingers and other parts of the body A .45 caliber pistol was pointed on victim's head, his hands tied at the back with a nylon rope
Victim was hanged for an hour while he is blind folded and hands tied at his back Victim 'missing' for ten consecutive days
Different kinds of physical beatings for three consecutive days. Victim collapsed four times Denial of visitors; lawyer and family
Continuous physical abuse for 10 hours
Feet were beaten by a bamboo stick while interrogated for about 5 hours
Victim is kicked, while somebody held his head and then locked his jaws
Victim was kicked, mauled using armalite rifle case and .45 caliber pistol hitting different parts of his body
Victim's neck tied with a rope while his body was struck with the rifle butt

As a result of their experiences, the Basilan tortured detainees are going through a wide range of psychological, mental, emotional and social problems. Below is a collated result following the data gathering and debriefing sessions with the suspected Abu Sayyaf detainees in Basilan.

State of shock Vengeful Irritability Body pains Social stigma
Denial Suspicious Paranoia Sleeplessness Single parenthood
Blaming someone Withdrawal Extreme Fear of loud voices, things associated with the torture ie., ropes, bottles, etc Chest pains Severe financial problems
Confusion Loss of appetite Anxiety Weakness Employment problems
Disorientation Fatigue Loss of weight Social isolation
Impulsiveness Worrisome Skin disorder Disabled/handicapped status
Nightmares Hatred Urinary tract infection Lost property (belongings, etc)
Pessimistic Frequent neck and headaches Permanently displaced
Hopelessness Limping Loss of relatives


Balay welcomes the government's lifting of the "total war" policy and the resumption of the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Front (MILF). It also note of the sincere efforts of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to responding to the welfare of families and communities displaced by armed conflict and militarization. However, it remains to be a big challenge for state authorities to ensure the safe return and comprehensive rehabilitation of the IDPs. Meanwhile, military actions which, in a number of occasions, employ weapons of mass destruction against rebel groups and notorious criminal bands must be discouraged since it is taking its toll among civilian population caught in the crossfire.

The following are the recommendations of Balay to government authorities:

1. Adopt the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID) as a framework in dealing with the phenomenon of internal displacement in the country, and popularize the same among the military and local government units.

2. As much as possible, refrain from resorting to all out military approach, and the use of weapons of mass destruction, in dealing with peace and order issues since it only produces civilian casualties rather than solving the problem.

3. Continue to pursue peace negotiations as a means of settling political disputes; stop the practice of labeling s "terrorist" dissident groups or individuals to justify an all out assault.

4. Support grassroots participation in the peace process and respect the community-based initiatives to build "spaces for peace."

5. Implement the law creating Disaster Coordinating Councils (DCCs) from the provincial to barangay levels, and ensure the training of concerned government authorities and villagers in disaster preparedness and management to mitigate human suffering during displacement situations.

6. Cooperate with organizations working for the removal of land mines in conflict-ridden areas and adhere to the international call against the use of land mines.

7. Continue to work for comprehensive rehabilitation of displaced families and communities, including their recovery from trauma through psychosocial interventions.

8. Put a stop to the practice of warrantless arrest and torture of suspected dissidents and their supporters; allow the access of detainees (esp. in Basilan and Zamboanga) to legal and medical services; and respect visitation privileges of their relatives.

9. Prosecute those responsible for cruel treatment of detainees and if applicable, indemnify displaced persons for the damage to their livelihood and properties.

10. Provide adequate protection and welfare assistance, especially to children and women caught in the armed conflict.

Prepared by Balay Advocacy Program
February 26, 2002


1.Based on a report furnished by the Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Center (DROMIC) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) dated January 23, 2002.
2. Aquiles Zonio, "Land mines scourge of Mindanao folk," Inquirer News Service, October 31, 2001 and field reports from Balay regional offices