Philippines: tens of thousands of people are still displaced in Central Mindanao
25-08-2009 Operational Update
The ICRC delegation in the Philippines is assisting more than 150,000 people displaced in connection with internal armed conflict in Central Mindanao. Humanitarian needs in the area remain acute.
During the first half of 2009, persistent clashes in the southern Philippines between the Philippine Armed Forces and the Moro Islamic Front have prevented tens of thousands of people in Central Mindanao from returning safely to their homes. While active hostilities have been suspended since the end of July 2009, over 200,000 civilians remain displaced in the region.
The ICRC and the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) have been working together closely to distribute food rations and household essentials to displaced families in evacuation centres in Central Mindanao. The ICRC has also improved access to safe drinking water and health care by assisting several hospitals and primary health care centres.
" Many of the families who had to flee the violence in August last year have been displaced since then, " says Mathias Frese, the ICRC's e conomic security and relief coordinator in the Philippines. " They've lost their land and other means of agricultural production and, as the months have passed, they’ve become increasingly dependent on aid. "
The ICRC was directly affected by the deterioration of the security situation on the island of Sulu when three of its staff members were kidnapped on 15 January 2009 in the capital city of Jolo while carrying out their humanitarian activities. Two of them were released in April and the last one in July.
Improving conditions of detention
The ICRC continues to monitor the conditions of detention and the treatment of people deprived of their freedom in the Philippines, including those held for security reasons in connection with internal armed conflicts. Between January and July 2009, the organization:
carried out 90 visits to more than 48,000 inmates held in 72 places of detention;
monitored the individual cases of 467 detainees;
worked together with the PNRC to enable 173 inmates to receive visits from family members.
The ICRC supported the efforts of the national authorities to address gaps in the criminal justice system and to upgrade jail infrastructure by improving living conditions and providing inmates with hygiene and recreational items. The organization signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJPM) to improve water and sanitation facilities for more than 9,000 prisoners throughout the country and to train BJMP engineers.
ICRC health staff have facilitated access to health care in the main places of detention. During the first semester of 2009, the organization provided two prison infirmaries wit h first-aid items and medical equipment. It also supported 10 detainees by providing drugs and paying hospital fees. The ICRC repeatedly stressed the importance of a balanced diet and preventive health care for detainees.
The ICRC has been placing a special emphasis on the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis and has been monitoring implementation of the National Tuberculosis Programme in all prisons. In accordance with the action plan adopted by the authorities, implementation started in seven pilot jails, involving over 30,000 inmates in all.
Serving as a neutral intermediary
When needed, the ICRC serves as a neutral and impartial intermediary to facilitate the handover to their families of people captured and detained in connection with conflict. In March, it facilitated the release and handover to their families and government authorities of three police officers captured by the New People's Army in Rizal Province (Luzon).
In close cooperation with the local health authorities, the ICRC improved access to healthcare for an estimated 170,000 displaced people and residents in Central Mindanao through its support for six primary health-care centres to which it supplied drugs and other medical items. The ICRC also supported surgical centres offering quality care without discrimination to war-wounded patients by providing the centres with drugs, surgical equipment and consumables, and by organizing training seminars in war surgery and first aid.
Particularly vulnerable people received individual support from the ICRC, which h as been working with local social services to cover the cost of operations and provide case-by-case follow-up. Between January and July 2009, the ICRC assisted 150 patients, of whom more than half had suffered wounds inflicted by weapons and required surgical care.
The ICRC facilitated access to mobility aids for amputees, both by providing direct support for victims and by sponsoring training for technical staff working at the Davao Jubilee Centre. Since January, over 20 amputees have received physical rehabilitation and prosthetic support, including the provision of prostheses, crutches and wheelchairs.
Water and habitat services for displaced people and resident communities
" People have moved to evacuation centres that generally do not have the facilities needed to keep the water supply safe and sanitation adequate, " explains Marco Albertini, the ICRC's water and habitat coordinator in the Philippines. " Sinking deep wells, setting up small water networks and installing toilets and septic tanks are among our priorities. "
Since the beginning of the year, 29,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have benefited from this work in Central Mindanao. In addition, preparations are under way for upgrades to the roofs, interiors, electrical systems, water systems and sanitation facilities of six rural health units and health posts.
In the conflict-affected areas of the Visayas region, the ICRC has been improving access to safe water and sanitation for over 2,000 residents through the construction of two new gravity-fed water supply systems. All water and sanitation projects have been implemented in coordination with the local authorities.
Distribution of food and other items
The ICRC delegation in the Philippines is currently providing:
more than 150,000 displaced people in Central Mindanao with food (rice, coconut oil, sardines, noodles, sugar, salt, coffee and soy sauce) and laundry soap;
around 1,400 families with essential household items (tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen sets, sleeping mats, hygiene kits, plastic basins and mosquito nets).
Promoting international humanitarian law
The ICRC continued its efforts to promote respect for the lives and dignity of people affected by armed conflict in the Philippines and to spread knowledge of its own work. It pursued these aims through regular dialogue with the armed forces, the police and armed groups. The ICRC also promoted the inclusion of international humanitarian law (IHL) in military training and raised awareness of international policing standards within police forces.
The ICRC and the Philippine National Red Cross invited law students and lecturers from various institutions of higher learning to participate in a debate competition on IHL in June. Five teams took part and the winner, Ateneo de Davao University, represented the Philippines at the regional IHL debate tournament in Kuala Lumpur.
The ICRC also provided technical expertise on IHL for legislators. Bills penalizing international crimes and protecting the distinctive emblems (red cross, red crescent and red crystal) are due to become law before the end of 2009.
In partnership with the Supreme Court of the Philippines and the Philippine National Red Cross, the ICRC launched a photo exhibition Inter Arma Caritas on 8 May (World Red Cross Red Crescent Ray) that will tour nine halls of justice in the country. The aim was to raise awareness among judges and lawyers o f international humanitarian law and the obligations it imposes on States.
On 24 June, as part of the worldwide " Our world. Your move. " campaign to mark the 150th anniversary of the battle of Solferino and the 60th anniversary of the four Geneva Conventions, the ICRC launched two photo exhibitions: Our World - At War in Manila, and Humanity in War in General Santos, Mindanao.
Cooperation with the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC)
The PNRC is the ICRC's main partner in the country. In Central Mindanao, the ICRC and the National Red Cross work together to assist thousands of families displaced by conflict.
To boost the capacity of the PNRC to offer psychosocial support in emergencies, the ICRC sponsored the participation of Red Cross staff in a community-based psychosocial support training session organized by the Department of Health and the University of the Philippines network for psychosocial response in emergencies and disasters.
Similarly, the ICRC worked with the Philippine National Red Cross to enhance its first-aid response capability in conflicts and other violent situations by organizing a training seminar and a master trainers'workshop. With ICRC support, the PNRC conducted training for its management, staff and volunteers on how to obtain safer access to people affected by conflict.
The ICRC and the Philippine National Red Cross pursued their efforts to make the Red Cross mission and fundamental principles better known and understood by local officials and health workers.