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Philippines: Philippines National Red Cross and ICRC help displaced families in Sulu

14-03-2005 News Release 05/22

"It's hard, but we have no choice." The speaker is a young mother of two living near Indanan on the tropical island of Jolo in the Sulu archipelago, in the south-west of the Philippines.


  Young child in makeshift shelter at displaced persons evacuation centre, Indanan, Jolo, Sulu.    
    Jolo is home to 700,000 people, most of whom are fishermen, local merchants or small farmers. Over the last month, the island has witnessed a series of clashes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and dissident groups.
Preciosa Chiong is the local administrator of the Philippines National Red Cross (PNRC). She has mobilized PNRC volunteers to help the estimated 5,400 displaced families. But it has not been easy. Land travel in the early part of the relief operation was impossible due to the risks of crossfire, lan dmines and attacks by armed groups. " I believe the Red Cross is respected in Sulu Province, " says Pinky, as Preciosa is known to her Red Cross colleagues; " Eventually we were able to penetrate the hinterland, even in areas known to be home to the Abu Sayyaf. But at the outset, even I was afraid. "
Evaluating the number and needs of displaced persons has been tricky: remote communities like Luuk and Panglima Estino are only accessible by sea, and most displaced families remain home-based, staying with other families. They visit the nine local-authority evacuation centres only to collect food distributed by the PNRC (with ICRC support), local and national government and development agencies.
People here have been displaced before, and both families and the Red Cross knew the evacuation sites. But that makes it no easier for the people concerned, many of whom fled with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Displacement also makes it difficult to look after domestic animals, which play an important role in family economies.
    Fighting has stopped in some areas, allowing many people to return, but elsewhere clashes continue. People are afraid of going home and being caught in the middle. And for some who have returned, the discovery that fighting has destroyed their homes has added to the trauma. It is difficult for the Red Cross: " We want to give people plywood so they can rebuild,” says Pinky, “but it is very difficult to help some without helping all. "
Symeon Antoulas, head of the ICRC delegation in Manila, visited Jolo City on 9 March accompanied by a Davao-based ICRC field officer. The visit follows the close cooperation between the local PNRC chapter and the ICRC sub-delegation on neighbouring Mindanao island. That resulted in the PNRC procuring and distributing rice, noodles and sardines, together with shelter materials for almost 21,500 people from 60 villages over the last three weeks. Conditions in the centre the ICRC visited on the outskirts of Jolo are satisfactory but makeshift, and certainly not ideal for a lengthy stay. A second round of distributions will start in the next few days. " I think we should continue to help. I think we must help! " says Pinky.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Vincent Lusser, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++ 41 22 730 24 26 / ++41 79 217 32 64  

 Symeon Antoulas, ICRC Manila, tel. ++ 63 2 892 8901