Not many are aware that the Philippines is the site of an on-going conflict, creating a rapidly deteriorating refugee situation. The callous, or at least more jaded, would likely agree that it’s part in parcel with that fact that, well…it’s in Mindanao. And what happens in Mindanao does not really resonate up here. I hope and pray this is not the case; that really the lack of recognition of the on-going affair is just a by-product of the legion of issues facing the country. That, in efforts to clean up endemic corruption, root out impunity and disband private armies, the refugee issue will improve as well.
I hope this is the case.
Yet, the fact that 250,000 refugees are at near starvation levels of subsistence has barely registered on the political Richter scale up here. A din is raised from certain sectors concerning things like the RH bill or conditional cash transfers (come on, look at the big picture here) or the peace and order situation (hostage crisis/jueteng and so on) or amnesties or the 12 year education cycle (needed) or human rights and so on. In the background is a situation that encompasses all of these failings in Mindanao. Without the UN bringing the situation up, would we even be paying attention? Are we even paying attention knowing what’s going-on?
Refugees by their very nature have little to no access to proper sanitation, health care, education and so on. They are the face of human rights violations stemming from impunity and warlordism; all reflections of a brutally cracked political system. A system that rewards the continued focusing on small matters to the exclusion of larger considerations. This is not me deriding the focus on larger system-wide issues that must be addressed. It is a critique of politicos who utilize and leverage smaller issues for political and personal gain. Politics is not a game measured in points, it’s a game measured in lives helped…or lost. And right now lives are being lost in Mindanao.
In the UN Education for All Report it was noted that the Philippines refugee situation is not only undermining the current opportunities for displaced peoples, but seriously abrogating any opportunities their children may have for the future.
Regional data reveal deep fault lines in opportunity (Figure 3.9). Nationally, about 6% of those aged 17 to 22 have fewer than four years of education. In the best-performing regions — Ilocos and the National Capital Region — the share falls to 1% to 2%. At the other extreme, in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Zamboanga Peninsula over 10% fall below this threshold.
The disparities are driven by a wide array of factors. The impact of high levels of poverty is exacerbated by conflict in Mindanao, and by the remoteness and wider disadvantage experienced by indigenous people in the Eastern Visayas and Zamboanga.
So, let’s see, not only are the refugees being largely ignored in the broader media, and unfortunately by the government, not only are they displaced, not only are their lives threatened by warlordism and conflict, not only are they suffering from malnutrition and likely health and sanitation related diseases, their children are being set up to repeat the same cycle the parents are in.
While I understand the Mindanao politicians ire concerning the allocation of the national budget, and they raise valid points, I find it surprising that they are not raising more of a ruckus concerning this situation. Or for that matter, why none of the politicians or media who purportedly believe in human rights and the pursuit of the MDGs aren’t attempting to address.
Where is their outrage? Where is the storming out and deriding national leadership? Money is not the only way to win in the game of politics. Helping your constituents is not only measured in the amount of pork and funding brought home. It’s also about properly utilizing the resources at hand to help your constituency.
In a way, I am muddling the situation by linking the desire of Mindanao politicos to have a larger piece of the budgetary pie with the refugee status. But, I cannot help but feel that the issue shouldn’t be necessarily about how much money you’re receiving. It should be about how the money is needed to help your constituents and why. This holds true for all representatives; Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao alike. Every time I hear a politician saying they need their ‘fair share’ I can’t but feel slightly cynical.
Here is an on-going situation in Mindanao that has not been addressed by LGUs and only peripherally by the national government. Where are the cries of foul over that?
Here, looming large over any attempts the Philippines to improve their health and social services, to improve the human rights situation, is a black stain on the Philippines. It is something that the national government and representatives from Mindanao should be working together to address. For the national government, here is a needed chance to demonstrate how important Mindanao is, for Mindanao representative and LGUs, here is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that you are more progressive and more concerned about your constituency than any other part of the country. Show the way, start in Mindanao.