Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Red Cross: 500,000 affected by worst fighting in 5 years

Fighting between Philippine government forces and Muslim insurgents has reached its worst point in five years, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Friday.

"Up to a half a million people have been affected by this armed conflict and many of them have been obliged to leave their homes," said Carla Haddad, a spokeswoman for International Committee of the Red Cross.

While some people are able to return home, others remain in evacuation centres as a result of the clashes, which "are the worst since 2003," Haddad said in Geneva, where the ICRC is headquartered.

The situation for people on southern Mindanao island will stay difficult for some time to come because of a breakdown in the peace process, she added.

The ICRC plans to provide medical assistance, food and shelter to 325,000 people on the island by year's end.

Fighting broke out between Philippine troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on August 10 after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against signing a peace agreement.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting for a separate Islamic state since 1978. In 2003 it signed a ceasefire with Manila to open the way for peace talks.

More violence

Analysts fear that President Gloria Arroyo's 3 September decision to dissolve a negotiating panel seeking a political solution to the MILF's 30-year rebellion will trigger increased violence across the southern island of Mindanao.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said on 4 September that four weeks of fighting between government soldiers and MILF forces had displaced some 423,772 people. These people "are directly affected and needing assistance of any form. They either lost their houses, are displaced and/or lost their livelihoods."

Cases of acute respiratory and urinary tract infections have been reported by medical authorities in camps near Kolambugan, one of the towns in Lanao del Norte province raided by MILF forces. Classes remain suspended in many areas, with schools burned down by rebels and not yet repaired and others serving as temporary shelters, according to the NDCC.

MILF rebels, headed by Umbra Kato and Commandero Bravo, led their forces in a deadly rampage across several mostly Christian towns and villages in Lanao and other areas on southern Mindanao island in August. They claimed the attacks were in retaliation for a Supreme Court order freezing an MILF-government deal that would have given them control over an expanded autonomous region in the south.

The MILF rebels looted homes and businesses, burned down houses and left some 50 people dead. Calling the attacks treacherous and a violation of a 2003 ceasefire, Arroyo unleashed punitive strikes, including heavy artillery and air bombardments, killing more than 100 rebels in the past four weeks. The government military has also taken over 15 MILF camps.

Civilian casualties

Leila de Lima, head of the independent Human Rights Commission, told IRIN the number of civilian casualties appeared to be higher than reported by the military. She said independent monitors from her office had said that in one Lanao town, Poona Piagapo, 20 civilians were killed on 24 August although their deaths went unreported.

She said it was not clear whether they were killed deliberately by the MILF or were caught in the crossfire.

"Civilians are suffering immensely. Tens of thousands are internally displaced because of this war, dozens have been killed, hundreds of homes have been pillaged and razed, landmines have been utilised, shelters and rations are insufficient, children cannot go to school and sanitation is deplorable," De Lima said.

"Armed conflict is the worst environment for human rights. The human suffering involved here remains the unmistakable black mark that stains any incidence of armed conflict," De Lima said.

Humanitarian crisis

A report by the commission after visiting nine IDP camps in the area of Cotabato city this week stated that the national and local governments were overwhelmed by the humanitarian crisis, and blamed central government for a "lack of foresight" in emergency planning prior to ordering the massive military offensive.

The report, obtained by IRIN, said sanitation was deplorable, medical supplies were running low and overall planning for disaster management "appears disorganised". It said there were no regular food supplies, potable water was inadequate, and the number of social workers to help women and children appear to be lacking.

Under pressure to quell public outrage, Arroyo scrapped talks with the MILF and said any future negotiation should entail the MILF disarming first. The directive was a major departure from her policy of talking peace and aiming for a final settlement before her term ends in 2010.(Agence France-Presse and IRIN, a news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

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