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Philippines: inhabitants of Central Mindanao keep being displaced by the fighting

14-10-2008 Operational Update

Latest report on ICRC activities in the field

  © AFP / J. Aznar / V-P -PH-E-00124    
  Maguindanao, Philippines. Displaced people from the villages of Mamasapano, Datu Piang, and Datu Saudi town receive supplies from the ICRC during a relief operation.    

  © AFP / J. Aznar / V-P -PH-E-00122    
  Maguindanao, Philippines. Displaced people from the villages of Mamasapano, Datu Piang, and Datu Saudi town receive supplies during an ICRC distribution.    

  © AFP / J. Aznar / V-P-PH-E-00125    
  Maguidanao, Philippines. The ICRC trucking supplies for displaced people in the region.    

The floods have receded in Mindanao, but crops have been destroyed and the fighting keeps creating fresh displacement on a daily basis. The ICRC, in cooperation with the Philippine National Red Cross and national authorities, continues to help meet basic needs by making available safe drinking water, emergency food and other items. The ICRC has assisted over 150,000 people in Mindanao since 12 August.



“Even though the flare-up in fighting at the end of Ramadan feared by some has not materialized, the situation of the displaced in Mindanao remains difficult,” said Felipe Donoso, head of ICRC delegation in the Philippines. Constant skirmishes between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) keep triggering displacement. “In one single day, 213 families – more than 1,000 people – recently arrived in the town of Datu Piang,” said Perry Proellochs, ICRC delegate for Central Mindanao. Over the weekend of 11 and 12 October, fighting broke out again in villages belonging to the nearby municipality of Mamasapano, leading to the displacement of several hundred people. " The displaced are moving by the truckload, " added Proellochs.

Maguindanao, where Datu Piang and Mamasapano are located, is the region most severely affected by the armed conflict. In Datu Piang alone, a natural convergence point for neighbouring villages, there are over 24,000 displaced people. This figure reaches 41,000 if the whole munic ipality is taken into account. “People are even sheltering under the stilts supporting buildings,” said Proellochs. “Datu Piang is built on marshland. Because a bridge has collapsed, there is only one road left. When there is fighting, people congregate there with little access to the outside world.”

One positive point is that the floodwaters which had inundated evacuation centres during the second half of September have now receded, somewhat alleviating the pressure on both the displaced and the host communities. The bad news is that many crops were destroyed by the floods, thus putting affected communities even more at risk.

The sheer persistence of the current situation is a cause for concern. “Our presence in Mindanao dates back 26 years. During this period, short-term displacement has unfortunately been all too common. But now, some people have been displaced for two months already. This is putting an enormous strain on government structures, despite their highly commendable efforts,” said Donoso. Some communities, like Datu Piang, have to cope with a 50% increase in population and share resources that are not plentiful at the best of times.

  ICRC/Philippine National Red Cross response  

In this constantly evolving environment, the ICRC, in close partnership with the Philippine Red Cross, has pressed ahead with its humanitarian activities, which complement the efforts of government agencies and non-governmental organizations. Over the past week, joint ICRC-Philippine Red Cross teams have distributed food to 3,394 individuals.

Humanitarian operations such as these sometimes have to be delayed owing to the security situation. A distribution scheduled to take place in Dapiawan, Central Mindanao, on 7 October, for example, had to be postponed because of the presence of armed men in the area. But o n the following day, 8 October, the heads of 782 families (one family includes on average five persons) gathered in the courtyard of the local clinic to receive laundry soap and rations that included rice, oil, sardines, noodles, sugar and salt. Depending on the results of an ongoing assessment of needs, the same people may also soon be receiving household essentials.

" Together with the Philippine Red Cross, the ICRC distributes items directly to displaced people, without intermediaries, " explained Isabelle Bucher, an ICRC economic-security coordinator. " Also, the ICRC does not limit its aid to groups sheltering in schoolhouses and similar places, but reaches out, whenever feasible, to displaced people who are staying with host families. This is of course more difficult in terms of logistics, but it enables us to be sure that our assistance reaches the right people and that no one is left out. "

ICRC engineers have been providing water and sanitation for more than 50,000 people. Altogether, 25 projects have been completed. Fourteen more are under way and six additional projects are planned. “Personal hygiene, proper disposal of waste, and access to clean water, sanitary facilities and proper shelter are critical to avoid outbreaks of epidemics,” underlined ICRC water and sanitation coordinator Marco Albertini. Until now, only limited cases of measles, diarrhoea and upper respiratory tract infections have been recorded, although skin diseases are on the increase because of overcrowded living conditions.

In Mindanao the ICRC has offices in Davao and Zamboanga and permanent staff in both Cotabato City (Maguindanao) and Iligan (Lanao del Norte). Seven to eight teams made up of ICRC and Philippine Red Cross staff carry out their work in the field every day, in coordination with the armed forces and local authorities. They first assess the needs of the displaced, then proceed to distribute aid within days. Since 12 August, they have handed out food and essential household items to more than 110,000 people.

ICRC delegates, in accordance with the organization's mandate, are monitoring the situation of people detained in connection with the conflict. In addition, they are following up allegations of humanitarian concern in order to ensure that belligerents take all necessary measures to spare civilians. The ICRC is discussing these issues on a bilateral and confidential basis with the parties to the conflict.

Finally, the ICRC recently launched a poster campaign in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao, warning the population of the danger of unexploded ordnance.

The emergency operation of the ICRC and the Philippine Red Cross complements the efforts of Philippine government agencies and of other international organizations.

  ICRC in Mindanao: facts and figures  

Since the beginning of the crisis on 10 August 2008, the ICRC has:

  • doubled its personnel in Mindanao, where it now has 53 staff members, including drivers;

  • delivered food to 99,067 individuals in North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Lanao del Norte and Sarangani;

  • delivered essential household items to 49,020 individuals in the same regions;

  • provided clean water and sanitation for more than 50,000 people in North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte. This involved building or protecting 15 shallow wells equipped with hand pumps, installing eight water reservoirs and tap stands, repairing a water distribution network in a schoo l, improving a water network in a village, covering the cost of water and electricity for wells supplying three evacuation centres, and building over 100 latrines;

  • provided eight health-care centres and one hospital in Mindanao with medicines and supplies, and provided around 100 people, including war-wounded and displaced people, with individual medical assistance;

  • set up a warehouse in Davao from which it can deliver up to 3,000 food rations or kits of household essentials every day;

  • held dissemination sessions on international humanitarian law for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU).

  Activities elsewhere in the Philippines  

ICRC activities elsewhere in the Philippines continue. In particular, the organization is monitoring the consequences for civilians of the conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People's Army in Southern Luzon and the Visayas. ICRC delegates meet the affected families, including victims of violations of international humanitarian law and people displaced by the fighting, and raise the organization’s concerns with the parties to the conflict. Other activities include water and sanitation projects in areas severely affected by the conflict.

The ICRC also visits people in custody, and supports water, health and habitat improvements in 26 jails benefiting around 14,000 inmates. It has also given hygiene items to over 7,500 detainees in eight jails since the beginning of 2008. A family visit programme has enabled more than 400 families living in remote places to visit detained relatives in various locations.

The ICRC regularly carries out activities intended to raise awareness of internationa l humanitarian law and basic humanitarian principles. In September alone, it held several events on this topic, including a three-day seminar attended by 21 senior police officers.

The ICRC cooperates with the Philippines Red Cross on a daily basis in Mindanao and elsewhere in the archipelago.

  For further information, please contact:
  Iolanda Jaquemet, ICRC Manila, tel: +63 90 868 38264
  Carla Haddad Mardini, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 05 or +41 79 217 32 26

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