Armed conflicts in Mindanao, southern part of the Philippines, has been going on for decades. All I know was there used to be two Muslim rebel groups the government was in conflict with, the Moro National Liberations Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but during President Estrada’s time the peace pact with the MNLF was sealed while the peace talk with MILF still pending.
August 8, 2008 when a distress SMS message was sent by a villager at North Cotabato to a friend living in Davao to seek refuge from the frightening situation he and his family was facing.
“Please help us… nandito na sila sa lugar namin… pinatay nila ang mga tao dun sa isang liblib na baranggay at kahit military takot na pumasok dito dahil hindi nila kabisado ang lugar…” (Translation: Please help us… they are already here… they already killed all the people from a remote village even the military are afraid to come here because they are not familiar with the terrain…”)
Without batting an eyelash this friend from Davao took the family who came to her bringing only a few clothes and a great deal of anguish against the government not the Muslim doing the killings and threatenings. Why? Because they blame the present administration for toying with the idea of giving back North and South Cotabato to the Muslims when it can’t be done.
August 4, 2008 when the issue about the said agreement (this was one of the outcome of the abandoned memorandum of agreement on ancestral domains or the Bangsamoro Judirical Entity, a by face value peace offering of the present administration with the MILF.)
Villagers from North Cotabato were threatened to flee the area within 24 hours and will be killed if they stay. This happened two days before the hightened armed conflict between the government troops and the break-away group of the Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). This story did not come out of the media but this happened for real.
The said distressed family has been crying for days weeping about their wasted life because of the lost of their livelihood; crops, animals and their home.
Above mentioned family is just one of the 500,000 people that have been displaced in this recent war in Mindanao between the MILF rebels and the government forces.
Fighting started in North Cotabato province in early August and rapidly spread to 10 other provinces in Mindanao. Particularly in Region 12: North Cotabato, Sarangani, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, ARMM, Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Magindanao Sharif Kabunsuan and Region 10: Lanao del Norte. As of early October, an estimated 130,000 people have managed to return since August and an estimated 390,000 people are still displaced inside and outside (153) evacuation centers, spread over 9 provinces of Mindanao. Only a minority of the displaced (97,000) are living in evacuation centers. The majority (293,000) of the displaced are living with friends and families.
We would never know how long this human-made calamity will last but at present the war is still on-going and has resulted to death on both sides of the involved party. The war can only be halted if there will a truce between the warring parties which I think the chance for now is so bleak since this Muslim rebel group no longer trust this government, particularly President Arroyo, who toyed with them making them believe she can give the larger part of Mindanao for them to run on their own.
This being said, the humanitarian situation in Mindanao needed much attention, especially the refugees needing emergency aid above all else like potable water, decent shelter, working toilets, food, medicines and clothing. They have lost their dignity most of all.
The situation in evacuation centers are grim, thousands of people are living in rudimentary tents made of tarpaulin and other light materials, and not have adequate drinking water and toilets. The refugees have taken over the municipal plaza, erecting makeshift tents in every available space, including a patio that has been converted into an emergency medical center.
Despite this grim situation the refugees would rather stay in there than go back to their “homes” which they can no longer call home since it is no longer safe for them and their properties, crops and livestocks is no longer usable and theirs.
More than 50 civilians have been killed so far, including five children who died in a military air raid on a marshland. Rebels have burned down many homes, while shops and businesses have been forced to close.
I would never really know the extent of help these people need, but honestly it all boils down to the two parties clashing, the MILF and the government troops. There are non-government organizations aiding the refugees in Mindanao which are locally based. They can get to the victims more than those who are away, but sadly kidnappings of volunteers were reported too. We can try to help or just close our eyes. If you want to donate for the Mindanao refugees visit Kalinaw, CBCP or Refugees United, an international non-government organization is also helping families unite and relocate.
Read the assessment and recommendations of a non-government organization regarding the situation in Mindanao here.
News about the Mindanao situation:
PEACE TALKS IMPASSE
Multidonor effort to rebuild threatened
There are refugees everywhere in the world, read their stories here.