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Philippines: hoping for a better life despite election fears

07-05-2010 Operational Update

Although most displaced people in Central Mindanao have returned to their homes over the past year, thousands have yet to do so. The ICRC has been providing assistance for them in accordance with their needs. This is an update on these and other ICRC activities in the Philippines.

©ICRC/D. Revol/ph-e-00471 
Lumpong Evacuation Centre. Some displaced people earn their living by working as labourers in nearby coconut plantations or rice fields. 
©ICRC/D. Revol/ph-e-00463 
Lumpong Evacuation Centre, in Datu Odin Sinsuat Municipality. Thirty-seven-year-old Tayan Mawgan, a mother of four, relies on humanitarian assistance and her meagre income. 
©ICRC/D. Revol/ph-e-00499 
Promoting respect for the basic rules of IHL among bearers of weapons is a priority for the ICRC in the Philippines. 

Some of the people driven from their homes have lost everything, and simply have nothing to go back to. Others, although still displaced, have obtained better access to basic services such as health care, water and sanitation services and schooling for their children. In addition, in some cases they have found better markets for the products and services they have to offer, and can therefore better integrate in host communities.

For most people still internally displaced (IDPs) within the Philippines, however, the lack of security is the main reason they have not returned to their homes. They fear that clashes between government troops and armed groups could erupt at any time. The proliferation of weapons in the region and complex land disputes and other local issues contribute to the general state of fear and instability which is being accentuated because elections are approaching.

People are waiting until the elections are over to make up their minds. Although they are apprehensive about what the elections will bring, they still hope for a better future. Civilians who have endured endless violence need stability, security and economic development more than anything else.

'' When I arrived in 2006, we had no office in Cotabato, " said Christophe Gillioz, the former head of the ICRC office in Central Mindanao. " There had been a series of ups in downs in the conflict between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) generating relatively small-scale displacement.''

After August 2008, however, displacement soared, and people began to stay away from their homes for longer periods. People had never before been displaced for so long. Back in 2000, people driven from their homes would typically stay away for only two or three months. Now there are some 60,000 people still displaced in Maguindanao even though a ceasefire has been holding since July last year.

People uprooted from their homes need help. The ICRC's position has always been that while it will provide assistance for the displaced in accordance with their needs, it does not want to see them depend on its aid forever. The aid provided is primarily intended to complement the authorities'efforts. It acknowledges that a decision to return home should be voluntary, but recognizing the right to remain displaced does not imply that it will always provide assistance.

The ICRC, with support from the Philippine National Red Cross, distributed over 270,000 food parcels, each including 25 kg of rice, 6 lt of oil, 12 cans of sardines and other items; and 52,000 kits containing household essentials to internally displaced people in Central Mindanao over a period of 18 months. The last distributions took place in March. The ICRC is now considering how best to provide further support for displaced people and for the communities hosting them.

The security of ICRC staff remains the primary factor determining how the organization conducts its humanitarian work in Mindanao.'' Following the kidnapping of our colleagues last year and other tense situations, we had to make some adjustments,'' said Mr Gillioz.

In Sulu, the ICRC is channelling all its assistance through the local Philippine Red Cross chapter, as it remains off limits of ICRC staff for security reasons. In Central Mindanao the ICRC conducts daily assessments and receives guarantees from all weapon bearers in the area.

The security situation for the ICRC has improved over the past year in Central Mindanao, where the organization has also enjoyed a higher level of acceptance. Through continuous presence in the field and dialogue with all parties, the ICRC promotes respect for the civilian population and gains acceptance for neutral, impartial humanitarian action.

TV news footage transmitted:
Associated Press Global Video Wire (AP/GVW)
  7th May, 09:15 – 09:30 GMT and replay 1400-1415 GMT
Eurovision ENS
  7th May, 11:45 GMT
For information on footage:
  Didier Revol, ICRC, Geneva,   tel: + 41 22 730 36 81 + 41 79 217 32 82 (M) or
For further information, please contact:
  Anastasia Isyuk, ICRC Manila, tel: +63 918 907 21 25
  Carla Haddad Mardini, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 05 or +41 79 217 32 26