Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2017, 15:16 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Philippines

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Philippines , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 19 November 2017]
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.

An estimated 135,000 to 150,000 Filipinos remained internally displaced at the end of 2001. Of those, 80,000 to 100,000 had been uprooted in 2000. Of an estimated 158,000 persons who became newly uprooted in 2001, some 53,000 were still displaced at year's end.

Some 57,000 Filipino refugees remained in Malaysia.

Almost all of the displaced persons and refugees were Muslims who had fled fighting between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Muslim insurgent groups.

The Philippines hosted 177 refugees and asylum seekers from various countries at year's end, including 114 persons recognized as refugees under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 22 persons granted refugee status by the Philippines, and 41 persons whose claims were pending with the government.

During the year, 24 persons sought asylum in the Philippines. The government decided five asylum claims, granting four and rejecting one.

In 1999, the Philippines became the first member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to establish a formal refugee status determination system. The Refugee Processing Unit (RPU), located in the Department of Justice, undertakes refugee status determinations. UNHCR receives refugee applications and forwards them to the RPU.

The government issues renewable Alien Certificates of Residence to persons granted refugee status. No laws or regulations provide for the granting of permanent status or citizenship to refugees, although Philippine officials have indicated that this could be possible.

UNHCR has expressed concern that Philippine authorities at ports of entry deny some asylum seekers entry to the country and access to the asylum procedure, particularly if the individuals do not possess proper identity or travel documents. Philippine immigration law renders such "undocumented" persons excludable.

The Philippines continued to host 1,850 Vietnamese (968 families) who had been determined not to be refugees under the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA), which ended in 1996. The Philippines was the only country in Southeast Asia to permit Vietnamese denied refugee status under the CPA to remain. In 2000, the Philippines asked the Vietnamese to choose among repatriation, resettlement to another country, or permanent residence. Some 750 of the 968 families opted for permanent residence. By the end of 2001, the government had not completed the process to provide such residence.

The year saw significant political change for the Philippines. President Joseph Estrada, elected in 1998, resigned in January following impeachment by the House of Representatives, amid a corruption scandal and widespread civil unrest. Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became president.

Internal Displacement: Background

Most displacement in the Philippines has resulted from conflict that began in the 1970s between the AFP and Muslim insurgent groups. Muslims are a minority in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, but form the majority in some islands in the southern Philippines – including Mindanao, which hosts 28 percent of the country's total population.

For many years, the lead insurgent group was the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). In 1996, the government and the MNLF signed a peace accord – brokered with the help of the Organization of the Islamic Conference – that gave the MNLF a lead role in governing a "Special Zone of Peace and Development" in Mindanao. Subsequently, MNLF leader Nur Misuari was elected governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), established in 1989 to help convince the MNLF to negotiate peace.

Since the 1996 accord, most fighting has been between the government and another long-established insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as well as a newer, much smaller, but more radical group, the Abu Sayyaf Group, which is known primarily for committing kidnappings for ransom and other acts of terrorism.

Events in 2001

Violence and displacement continued during 2001, with an estimated 158,000 persons newly displaced by conflict.

In August, the government held a referendum in the southern Philippines to expand the ARMM, in an effort to convince the MILF to abandon its separatist struggle and sign a peace accord, as the MNLF had done. Misuari and the MNLF opposed the referendum, saying that unilateral government actions violated the 1996 peace accord. The government later scheduled a special election for a new ARMM governor and backed a Misuari rival. In the days before the November 26 vote, Misuari and hundreds of MNLF colleagues returned to battle, instigating a bloody revolt against the government on the island of Jolo that left more than one hundred people dead.

The Philippine military launched an aggressive counterattack, sending more than 6,000 soldiers to pursue Misuari and his estimated 600 fighters. The fighting displaced more than 20,000 civilians.

Soon after, Misuari fled to Malaysia and sought sanctuary there. However, Malaysia detained him and sought the Philippine government's permission to return him. At year's end, the two governments were in discussions over Misuari's deportation.

Throughout much of the year, the Philippine government also continued to battle both the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf. The government and the MILF signed a cease-fire agreement in June and reinforced it in August through the signing of guidelines that provided for the return and rehabilitation of internally displaced persons. However, fighting resumed on several occasions. At year's end, the two sides were still working to implement the cease-fire.

Following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, the United States and its allies in the "war on terrorism," including the Philippine government, placed the southern Philippines – and Abu Sayyaf in particular – under even greater scrutiny. By November, the Philippine government had sent some 7,000 troops to combat Abu Sayyaf.

The military also contended with another kidnapping group, known as the Pentagon. Fighting between Philippine armed forces and the Pentagon in mid-November reportedly displaced some 25,000 persons, some of whom reported that the violence worsened when local MILF members reinforced the kidnappers and fought the government soldiers. The displaced – mostly Muslim villagers – were forced to abandon their homes and take shelter in school buildings, warehouses, and sports facilities in the town of Pikit in North Cotabato Province.

At year's end, conditions were not yet conducive for the return of the estimated 135,000 to 150,000 persons still displaced in Mindanao. Most of the displaced persons – primarily peasants and villagers – were in western Mindanao (Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces) and in the south of the island (Basilan and Sulu provinces). Shelters mostly consisted of schools, mosques, chapels, or other public buildings, many with inadequate or nonexistent health facilities.

While many persons displaced in the violence of 2000 and 2001 were able to return to their homes, others could not because of problems with housing reconstruction, land mines, or a continued rebel presence in evacuated areas.

In March, the government established a coordinating body to help implement relief and rehabilitation efforts in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao. In September, however, Arroyo said the new body was usurping functions of other agencies that could better handle the task. The announcement created some confusion among local nongovernmental organizations.

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