Philippines: Clan violence could undermine humanitarian work - aid officials
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||30 November 2009|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Philippines: Clan violence could undermine humanitarian work - aid officials, 30 November 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b19139324.html [accessed 12 July 2014]|
MANILA, 30 November 2009 (IRIN) - A further increase in clan violence on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao could undermine humanitarian work for tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs), aid officials warn.
"We are not pulling our staff out but if the security situation deteriorates further, it could affect us," Stephen Anderson, country representative for the World Food Programme (WFP), told IRIN.
"We don't want tensions to increase in a way that could certainly impact on our ability to continue to assist," he said, noting the agency was closely monitoring the situation.
His comments follow the massacre of 57 people, including 30 journalists, on 23 November, just six months before key elections.
About 100 armed men - allegedly under orders of an influential local warlord, Andal Ampatuan Jr - kidnapped the group, took them to a grassy hill and systematically murdered them.
Authorities say some of the bodies had been mutilated, and there are now fears that more violence could occur in Maguindanao Province and outlying areas as troops and the military go after those responsible for the crime.
"The issue of ?rido' or clan violence is a longstanding issue in Mindanao and the government recognizes this as a particular source of displacement," Matthew Serventy, head of the sub-office at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Mindanao, said.
"In the short term, the impact on the delivery of assistance is limited as agencies are redirecting their aid; however, should such violence continue or escalate, relief assistance could be affected," Serventy added.
Those killed included the wife of Ampatuan's rival Esmael Mangudadatu, his two sisters and supporters, who were on their way to the provincial capital to file his candidacy for governorship of the impoverished province, a post that Ampatuan is also contesting.
The military and police have since relieved their commanders on the ground, and disarmed hundreds of pro-government militiamen under the control of the Ampatuan family to prevent further bloodshed.
Ampatuan himself surrendered three days later to Philippine President Gloria Arroyo's chief adviser in the region. The Ampatuan clan is a close ally of Arroyo and has traditionally delivered crucial swing votes to candidates in the ruling administration coalition.
But the Mangudadatu family is also an old, powerful clan and it is now feared that they will soon begin revenge killings, which could plunge the region into further crisis.
"The area is under our direct control now to prevent further violence. We don't expect the Mangudadatu family to just sit down and accept the deaths," military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner told IRIN. "There remains an uncertainty in the area."
"The recent carnage in Maguindanao is an empirical validating of the worsening armed violence in Mindanao," said Rommel Banlaoi, executive director of the think-tank Philippine Institute for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, which has closely followed the Muslim insurgency in the south.
"If justice is not served in the Maguindanao massacre, it will set a very bad precedent in other areas [of the Philippines] where private armies and clan conflicts exist. This will make the Philippines the epicentre of armed violence in Southeast Asia in the 21st century, an ugly truth that we have to overcome," he told IRIN.
Anderson conceded that any movement of staff at present would need to be closely coordinated with security forces. "We can't yet determine whether it will have an impact in terms of access. Right now, our 40 staff are pretty much confined in Cotabato. We will have to see in the coming days. The last thing we want is to see disruption of food distribution to cause further tensions and problems in the area."
WFP has been providing vital food aid to tens of thousands still displaced by fighting between the government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in late 2008.
Nearly 400 people were killed and 700,000 people displaced at the height of last year's conflict, after the Supreme Court outlawed a proposed deal that would have given the 12,000-strong MILF control over 700 villages and townships.
According to the National Disaster Coordinating Council, more than 250,000 people are still in camps or with friends and relatives.