Philippines Humanitarian Bulletin Issue 3 | 1 to 31 March 2016
• 31,500 people remain displaced by continuous armed clashes in Maguindanao province since 5 February.
• CERF-funded emergency health project helps 212,000 most vulnerable people among those hit by Typhoon Koppu in October 2015.
• Inter-agency Cash Working Group applies lessons of cash-transfer programming in Typhoon Haiyan response to disaster preparedness.
Displacement – a way of life in Maguindanao
31,500 people remain displaced by clashes in Maguindanao
Continuous clashes between Government forces and armed groups since 5 February displaced over 41,800 people in six municipalities of Maguindanao province. While some have returned to their homes, about 31,500 people remain displaced as of 28 March, according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The majority of the internally displaced people (IDPs) – about 28,100 – are staying at 13 evacuation centres, while the remaining 3,400 people are “home-based” IDPs hosted by the neighboring communities.
Many of the displaced families and their hosts are the same people affected by the Government’s military operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) – a break way of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front seeking independence for Bangsamoro – in early 2015, which displaced over 148,000 people in Maguindanao province.
Host communities burdened by frequent and long-term displacement
Recurrent displacement has become a way of life for most communities in Maguindanao and the adjacent provinces of central Mindanao.
A large number of people displaced by recent conflict (some dating back to over a year) involving the military, the BIFF and other Moro groups have moved to urban centres to seek protection and support from their relatives and friends and larger host communities. Besides disrupting family life and livelihoods of the IDPs themselves, frequent and often long-term displacement has eroded the coping capacity of their already-poor host communities. They continue to share often-inadequate food and water as well as crowded shelter, sanitation and education facilities. Meanwhile, insecurity is constraining farmers from cultivating land, straining food security of the displaced and host households alike.
Erosion of the coping capacity of these displaced people and the impact this has on their hosts pose a challenge to local authorities and aid agencies trying to address the humanitarian situation in central Mindanao. Government assistance to displaced people has been limited to small food rations (e.g. two to three kilograms of rice and three tins of sardines per family to consume for several weeks), with an aim to prevent the relief goods from being accessed by armed groups. However, frequent violence has hampered regular access of the Government and aid agencies to the affected communities, making it difficult for the IDPs to meet their daily food needs without support from their host communities. Ironically, these host communities who are often the first responders to displacement are largely left out from organised humanitarian assistance, and this has created tensions and sometimes conflict between them and the IDPs.
Long term assistance to vulnerable communities key to lasting peace in Maguindanao
IDPs from areas where the BIFF is operational, mainly in the municipalities of Datu Salibo and Datu Piang close to Ligwasan Marsh, are suspected of supporting the BIFF. Restrictions on humanitarian access and limited relief efforts to these IDPs and their host communities may further alienate and frustrate them. This is feared to radicalise the communities and especially the youth amid political uncertainties following the recent setback in the peace process due to the delayed passage of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. Meanwhile, the BIFF may be gaining support from these communities as they become more vulnerable with fewer options. To prevent escalation of inter-group tensions and further suffering of the communities caught in the middle of recurrent fighting, there is an urgent need to strategically reach out to them with sustained humanitarian and development assistance.