1. ellobofilipino:

    Finally someone from Luzon brings up the case of the bakwits in Central Mindanao!

    Yes sir, the conflict in the Central Mindanao area between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has displaced a huge number of the local population. And journalists from Mindanao have tried to bring this concern to the national consciousness by photos, videos, and stories of the lives of the bakwits in the evacuations camps.

    Sadly though, as with most Mindanao concerns such as the power crises; corruption and impunity of local political families; and even death and destruction during natural disasters, these often are left unheard by the policy-makers and the ordinary people here in the Capital.

    The problem of internally displaced persons in Mindanao has become so complex and herculanean that even the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported at one time that the number of IDPs was already over 700,000 persons. That is equivalent of the population of 7 developing cities.

    The lack of concern by policy-makers here in the Capital, the media, and of course, majority of the population amazes me. But what can you expect from these sectors when, as what you suppose, they may have been desensitized with decades of stories of conflict in several areas in Mindanao. And that attitude of apathy by most of the people in Imperial Manila actually adds more to the slogans that secessionist groups are using in Mindanao to recruit disgruntled and frustrated individuals.

    As what I said in one of our exchanges, I do not see any of the Capital’s flamboyant individuals standing up for the people of Mindanao, not even those who go to the bakwits to have their pictures taken while giving out bags of rice with a few cans of sardines. There is going to be no “Damaso” for Mindanao. Who cares about Mindanao anyway?

    Below is a picture from veteran Mindanao-based photojournalist Froilan Gallardo of one of the IDP camps in Maguindanao. This was taken June of last year. Froilan wrote the caption below.

    DATU PIANG, Maguindanao- IMAGINE THIS IS YOUR HOME. A family tries to have a normal life under trying conditions in an evacuation camp in Datu Piang town.

    I must confess, I had peripherally heard about what was going-on, but was unaware to the extent the situation had deteriorated until recently. That article that ran in the Inquirer today in the “Region” section was both shocking and depressing because of it’s location.

    How 250K Filipinos suffering is just grouped under ‘Region’ is beyond me. Further, in all of the talk that I’ve heard, in all of the work I’ve seen done on the MDGs and human rights, I have nary heard a peep about the bakwits. Which is shameful in and of itself. For example, during World Water Day all of the talk was on the Pasig and urban sanitation. My suspicion is urban issues sell newspaper and makes for better soundbites. Trying not to be too cynical, but I wonder if the only reason this got any national exposure was because KC Conception went down there.

    These types of situations reflect the misguided priorities of the country and it’s so-called civic and political leaders. I hope that the Aquino administration is going to start taking steps to improve the situation down there. Yet, what we have instead is in-fighting the DILG between Robredo and Puno. This situation as well, most definitely not a recent one, reflects as well what the DILG was utilized more for in the past: a source of funding, control and leveraging LGUs for personal and political gain. 

    The policy-makers should be ashamed. The representatives should be trumpeting the vast human rights violations that are occurring down there. World Hunger Day is approaching; this situation should be highlighted. The MDG Summit just occurred; this situation should be highlighted.

    I think if anyone investigates, or at least reads up on the situation in Mindanao and Maguindanao, they cannot help but sympathize with Filipinos down there: betrayed by their homegrown leadership, ignored by the national government. And the only ones down there doing anything are the UN, USAID, AUSAID etc.

    And a quick notation, if I remember correctly this is taking place in Maguindanao (in part). The old stronghold of the Ampatuans, who were empowered to raid government coffers and act with impunity by members of government on high. This is a continuing example of how national government and LGUs in concert have failed Filipinos.

    You know, we’ve discussed this before I think, but NGOs and aid are support to supplement existing government programs and fill in some of the blanks, or catch those who slip through the cracks. They are not a replacement or stand-in for LGUs and national government. 

    Not by a long-shot.


  2. Shining a light on conflict…

    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.