Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

Philippines: IDPs sell rice rations to survive

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 5 June 2009
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Philippines: IDPs sell rice rations to survive, 5 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a2e101b1e.html [accessed 20 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

KAUSWAGAN, 5 June 2009 (IRIN) - Displaced people (IDPs) in conflict-stricken Mindanao are selling their rice rations to survive.

The move underscores the desperate conditions experienced by thousands of IDPs on the island, 10 months after the resumption of clashes between government troops and the Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In the coastal town of Kauswagan, where MILF forces burned down 27 houses and killed about 20 in August, many families still live in constant fear.

While many fled to one of 127 crowded evacuation camps set up by the authorities, others subsist on handouts or wild fruits, coconuts and corn that grow in abandoned fields.

"There are days when we don't have anything to eat," said Jim Villanosa, a coconut farmer and father of 12, whose house was razed to the ground when the rebels struck.

"We really do not have anything except a bag of rice-corn mixture my friend sent me and the clothes on our backs," he explained.

When the rebels attacked, Villanosa's family escaped to the coast, and boarded a small fishing vessel they found on the beach. They waited for hours for the fighting to subside, only to find their village reduced to ashes when they returned.

"Bodies were on the highway and MILF snipers continued to shoot at civilians," said Villanosa.

"They [government officials] have been telling people to return to the villages, but we don't have anything here," said Villanosa's wife, Wilma. The youngest child, a six-year-old girl, said her last meal was hours earlier.

Illegal sales

But as IDPs outside the camps struggle, those inside are equally desperate.

In Datu Saudi Ampatuan, the military recently seized 11 metric tonnes of World Food Programme (WFP) rice that IDPs had sold to illegal rice traders intent on repackaging it and selling it on.

WFP country director Stephen Anderson said the illegal rice traders tried to smuggle the load, since returned to a WFP warehouse, through a military checkpoint on 31 May.

The rice was part of more than 33MT of food the UN agency had distributed earlier to an overcrowded IDP camp in the area.

The rice traders apparently took advantage of the IDPs who needed cash to buy other necessities or household goods, he said, adding that the new development was yet another challenge in this longstanding humanitarian crisis.

Anderson stressed that the issue of accountability was taken "very seriously" by the UN food agency, and that an investigation was under way to determine how the rice traders managed to buy the rice without being detected.

WFP has provided more than 11,200MT of emergency food aid to IDPs in the camps since August. The rice sold to the illegal traders was distributed to more than 6,500 IDP families at the end of May in Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao Province.

Those not staying in the camps or with relatives do not receive rice rations, but are assisted by the government's social welfare department, as well as other agencies, including the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).

Peace process blocked

Meanwhile in Manila, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said he was not optimistic the MILF would return to peace talks soon, citing pronouncements by the rebels that they were not prepared to sit down again with President Gloria Arroyo's administration. 

"This is a very difficult problem. It saddens us that the peace process has slowed down and the MILF has drifted into unchartered waters. The years of insurgency have borne deep-seated grievances on both sides," Puno said, adding that the government had informed the MILF it was prepared to try again.

"The minimum desired result is the restoration of peace and order in the area. At the very least, a re-imposition of a true and effective ceasefire," he said.

"There is just too much misery in the entire island of Mindanao. Everybody feels unsafe and anxious," he said.

The MILF broke a five-year-old ceasefire in August, launching simultaneous attacks across several town and provinces across the mineral rich island after a Supreme Court decision put stop to a deal that would have granted them control over large tracts of ancestral lands.

Heavy fighting has left more than 300 combatants and civilians dead.

According to the NDCC, over 240,000 people remain displaced - about half in camps while the rest are staying with either relatives or friends.

jg/ds/mw


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