During 2014 the Philippines made significant progress towards concluding a 45-year Muslim minority struggle for self-determination that has claimed over 120,000 lives. In March, the Philippine government finalized a historic peace deal with the largest Muslim armed group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), paving the way for the creation of an autonomous Mindanao region – also known as Bangsamoro – by 2016. Notably, it was the first time anywhere that such a document was signed by a woman as chief negotiator. The Muslim minority, making up roughly 5 per cent of the population, is one of the poorest and most marginalized groups in the overwhelmingly Catholic country. The resource-rich Mindanao province has been engulfed by conflict since the 1970s, amid religious tensions and grievances over perceived exploitation by the central government.

The Philippine Congress is currently considering a new law, known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would formalize the terms of the peace agreement, including mechanisms for natural resource revenue-sharing and political devolution. However, indigenous peoples in Mindanao, known collectively as Lumads, have expressed concerns about the future of their ancestral domains. Some fear the new legislation could aggravate land conflicts and erode the rights of indigenous peoples in the southern Philippines. There are some 100,000 Lumads in the proposed Bangsamoro region, and they consider almost 300,000 hectares of land to be their ancestral domains. Although two Lumads are included in the commission drafting the Basic Law, it is unclear how these concerns will be addressed. Other non-Muslim communities have resisted inclusion in the new Bangsamoro region, including the Christian-majority city of Zamboanga, which came under siege by armed groups in 2013.

A patchwork of other separatist groups, such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, opposed the peace deal and continued to launch deadly attacks on the civilian population throughout the year, targeting the region's Christian minority in a number of towns and cities. The peace talks have similarly excluded the MNLF's founder, Nur Misuari, an influential figure who led the siege on Zamboanga in 2013. Mindanao is also haunted by a continuing communist insurgency against the government, and Lumads often get caught in the middle.

The Philippines also remains one of the world's deadliest places for human rights activists and indigenous community leaders. Many killings have been linked to the military or pro-government militias operating near resource development projects. In March alone, nine people were murdered, including William Bugatti, a prominent Tuwali activist who was gunned down by unknown assailants on his way home from work. The Philippine army had reportedly identified him as a 'target person' and communist sympathizer in a leaked military document from 2012. In August, three indigenous rights activists were murdered within one week, two of whom were involved in disputes with a local palm oil and mining company. The Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact described the ongoing violence against indigenous communities as a 'systematic attack' intended to 'stifle their opposition and struggle to defend their ancestral lands'.

Militarization and clan-based violence are key factors driving rural-urban migration in the southern Philippines, where the influx of displaced households has placed a heavy burden on the host communities. According to UN-Habitat, it has led to increased competition for jobs as well as shortages in housing, health and sanitation in urban areas. Young Muslim women, who tend to have lower levels of education than the men, are especially vulnerable to trafficking or exploitative domestic labour schemes.

Natural disasters are another major source of displacement in the typhoon-prone Philippines. Indigenous communities were left isolated after Typhoon Haiyan hit the southern Philippines in November 2013. According to the NGO Tebtebba, some 1,600 indigenous families are struggling to survive after losing their homes, infrastructure and boats used to gather vital supplies for the community. Indigenous groups have been made more vulnerable due to their geographical isolation, far away from major urban centres where support services are typically located. Research suggests that the rapid rate of urbanization in the Philippines has also made poor and marginalized groups, such as minority and indigenous communities, more susceptible to natural disasters and flooding as they cannot afford to buy or rent housing in safer places.

However, indigenous customs and knowledge have also been recognized as a tool to tackle the effects of climate change in the Philippines. For example, a regional UNESCO-led project has studied indigenous cultural practices to help policy makers devise better disaster preparedness strategies in coastal areas. The study identified a number of traditions that were used to accurately predict disasters, such as typhoons or tsunamis, and later integrated with scientific approaches. The study found that indigenous communities have developed various ways to strengthen their houses and store food ahead of disasters, offering useful lessons in strengthening local resilience.

Around 35,000 people, mostly from the country's Muslim minority, remain uprooted following the siege of Zamboanga in 2013. Thousands have since been subjected to arbitrary relocation, with others reportedly receiving inadequate aid and food supplies. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), most of the people who remain displaced are urban poor who lack formal land-ownership or tenancy rights in their area of origin. The repatriation process has been further hindered by concerns about certain areas deemed unsuitable for returns due to risks of flooding or renewed violence. The IDMC has called on the government to prioritize housing rights for displaced communities as part of the resettlement process. Congress is currently reviewing new legislation on the rights of IDPs, seen as a crucial step towards protecting vulnerable minorities and indigenous people in the Philippines. The law is a revised version of a historic 2013 bill that was controversially vetoed by the president.

The Philippines is a rapidly urbanizing country, with around half of the population now living in cities. Although most indigenous communities, which make up roughly 15 per cent of the population, live in isolated rural areas, a growing number are migrating to cities in search of better livelihoods and social services. Many are driven from their traditional lands by the expansion of large-scale development projects, militarization and tribal conflicts. They often face poverty and exclusion as a result of their limited formal education and the fact that their skills may not be suited to an urban context. In the northern city of Baguio – where indigenous people make up over 60 per cent of the population – it is estimated that some 65 per cent of indigenous migrants suffer from extreme poverty. Many of them are migrant women working as vendors in the city streets, where they are regularly pestered by police as part of the government's anti-peddling drive.

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