Advocate’s Overview: The Mindanao war


The newly erupted skirmishes between the government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao reportedly made homeless at least some 160,000 civilians from 56 villages. The escaping civilians took refuge among their relatives in other parts of Mindanao away from the conflict or sought solace in 33 evacuation centers.

Among the victims was Maryjane Blaza whose house in Dualing, Aleosan, North Cotabato was destroyed by the war between the MILF and government troops. The wanton destruction of properties are registered from other towns of Midsayap and Kidapawan.

As these civilians are now separated from their livelihood in their villages, their immediate sustenance is an urgent need they now face. Fortunately, the United Nations World Food Program reportedly transported food for the said victims. If this war takes longer – as it seems the root cause is not addressed – these internal refugees would suffer more as a consequence and relief is just a tactical remedy.

The ugly face of war reveals the present reality in Mindanao. The victims are mainly civilians. Various groups’ growing call for genuine peace in that war-torn part of the country is very timely.

August 12 is set by the United Nations as the day for International Humanitarian Law (IHL). In the various UN conventions and declarations under IHL, particularly Protocol 2, it is mandated that warring parties shall spare and respect unarmed civilians. War should not put the civilians in peril.

Reports from Mindanao showed that civilian villages were turned into battlegrounds by both parties. Even war materials banned by the IHL were reportedly used by the warring parties. As a consequence, civilian lives and the properties they had raised and labored for years – are not only in danger but totally destroyed. Nobody can describe their plight better than the people themselves, like Mrs. Blaza, a victim of this conflict and not of their own doing.

This armed conflict has violently wrenched the civilians from their main and even maybe their only source of livelihood and their communities’ cultural and spiritual integrity. They are traumatized by the conflict. Such is the degree of the collective violation of their rights – especially the right to have peace, as peace is now made elusive by the on-going war.

The call by various sectors for the MILF and government to stop the war and instead take the issues to the negotiating table must be supported with urgency by both warring parties and all of society. In the talks for lasting peace in Mindanao, any violation of the IHL should be monitored and investigated. The people’s participation must be considered in the negotiation as they too are stakeholders. The civilians cannot just leave the issues in the hands of the government and the MILF. A negotiated settlement between the government and the MILF will not mean peace for all stakeholders. The people should chart their destiny through their active participation in settling the issues of war.

As an advocate of indigenous peoples rights, I was expecting that the issues on the ancestral domains of the Lumad, the indigenous peoples in Mindanao, be immediately recognized as such is mandated by the Constitution and the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. As the government granted or defined the ancestral domain for the Bangsa Juridical Entity in Mindanao albeit being legally questionable under the government’s fundamental law, there is a double treatment they (government) had with the Lumad. Do the Lumad also need to take up arms before a negotiated settlement of their rights to their domain be recognized and respected? #(NorthernDispatch)

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