Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 14:37 GMT

Philippines: Safety first as Mindanao IDPs consider going home

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 29 October 2009
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Philippines: Safety first as Mindanao IDPs consider going home, 29 October 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4af7de322c.html [accessed 21 August 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.

DATU PIANG, 29 October 2009 (IRIN) - Security is the principal concern for thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mindanao when considering whether to return home.

"I can't return now," Ampino Lapinig said outside her one-room hut at the Notre Dame Dulawan evacuation centre in Datu Piang, where some 300 families or 1,500 people are sheltering. "It's just not safe."

A resident of the camp for more than a year, she and her family have no plans to return, despite the otherwise dire living conditions inside the camp.

According to aid agencies, water and sanitation conditions are poor, levels of malnutrition are high, and shelters are pitifully inadequate.

"Although my home is close, it's just too dangerous," said Musib Parashan, whose home in Lintukan District is just 2km from the camp.

"If the government can prove to me there is no danger I will go back. Otherwise, we will stay here," the 32-year-old said. "What guarantee is there that the fighting won't start up again?" A question heard time and again from the IDPs.

More than 250,000 displaced

In the past 16 months, some 750,000 residents have fled their homes on the southern Philippine island following an upsurge in fighting between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who have been fighting for an independent Islamic state since 1978.

And while most have returned, more than 250,000 remain in evacuation shelters or are staying with relatives, even though military operations were suspended in July, and both parties agreed to talks, hosted by Malaysia.

"At this point, it's just talk. Until I see something more concrete, I'm staying," Ampino Lapinig, 45, said, recalling how her family fled indiscriminate fighting in her village.

Further challenges

"Even if I returned, what would I be returning to?" asked Musib, who once earned US$80 per month as a day labourer. "We lost everything. We are now totally dependent on outside assistance."

Decades of conflict in Mindanao, particularly in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, have undermined the basic economic, social and human rights of most of the population.

Nearly half the people are food-insecure, and levels of malnutrition are significantly higher than in other regions of the country, the UN World Food Programme says.

Access to clean water and sanitation facilities, as well as social services such as education and healthcare, are generally limited; particularly so in remote areas, aid agencies report.

Moreover, most humanitarian indicators show that the conditions of those displaced have further deteriorated as fighting and military restrictions have reduced humanitarian access and the delivery of aid.

New accord

Joe Patrick Amara, field coordinator for the Nonviolent Peaceforce NGO, which is working closely with those affected, says people are willing to return, but will not be able to without security and assistance.

"Many of their homes were burnt and many lost their livestock and other means of livelihood," he said. "People understand the difference between a suspension of operations and a ceasefire. If there were a ceasefire, people would be more comfortable, but we're not there yet," he said. "With a suspension, people fear things could flare up again."

Meanwhile, a new accord signed on 27 October between the 11,000 strong MILF and Manila aimed at protecting civilians gives ground for hope.

According to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the Agreement on the Civilian Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team commits both parties to "take all necessary precautions to avoid incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and danger to civilian objects and to take all necessary actions to facilitate the provision of relief supplies".

The parties also agreed to expand the mandate of the international monitoring team to include civilian protection, allowing them to now monitor, verify and report on compliance by both parties.

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