Bro. Erle Frayne Argonza
Good morning from Manila!
Below is a news item regarding UN efforts aimed at helping out in the provision of food for those fleeing residents affected by the latest rounds of conflicts between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). Close to 130,000 residents were already displaced by the hostilities that have not even geared up for full battles.
As already reported, the contentious issue centers on the ‘ancestral domain’ for Muslims. There were not much public debates about the matter, though in Mindanao various sectors were invited to participate in the deliberations prior to drafting. The disagreements regarding content and implementation led the MILF forces to withdraw from the peace talks, and proceeded with occupation of villages by their armed force.
Below is a news item regarding UN efforts to assist in the food supply chain for the fleeing residents.
[13 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to yahoo.com database news.]
UN begins airlifting food aid to Mindanao
The United Nations has begun airlifting food to Mindanao to avert a major humanitarian crisis as thousands flee fighting between Muslim rebels and troops, officials said yesterday.
Fighting continued as soldiers used artillery and helicopter gun ships to pound rebel positions around towns and villages in North Cotabato, a poor farming province in Mindanao.
The UN's World Food Program (WFP) has begun airlifting 400 metric tons of rice worth $308,000 to assist 90,000 persons from conflict-affected communities in North Cotabato for at least one month.
The food support is WFP's response to the request made by the provincial government of the province, with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) still validating the number of the persons affected by the ongoing clashes.
The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said more than 129,819 people have been displaced from 42 villages in North Cotabato since fighting began last week.
The refugees are to be provided food support in at least 43 government evacuation centers in the province.
"WFP fully understands that the situation remains fluid, and we will continue to work closely with all concerned to further assess the total number of affected persons and adjust our response accordingly. WFP remains concerned over the growing number of persons displaced by the violence between the armed forces and the MILF," said Stephen Anderson, WFP country director.
"Many of the affected population are women and children, and we are concerned for their well-being and stand ready to support humanitarian needs. We hope for peace, so that these families can return to their communities," he said.
Anderson said WFP remains committed to providing support and technical expertise during emergencies and natural disasters.
The NDCC said 43 evacuation centers have been set up for the refugees but these are now overcrowded and fast becoming health hazards.
"This is turning into a humanitarian mess," Rep. Risa Hontiveros said.
"The refugee crisis is an unacceptable cost of the government's mismanagement of the peace process. A peace process should lead to the protection of life and property, and yet what's happening is the opposite," said Hontiveros, who has called for an immediate halt to the fighting.
Fighting began last week after the Supreme Court ordered the government to suspend plans to establish an extended Muslim homeland in Mindanao.
The decision saw around 1,500 heavily armed renegade Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels take control of mainly Christian villages and towns in North Cotabato.
Commission on Human Rights chairwoman Leila de Lima described the situation in North Cotabato as "serious" and called for an immediate ceasefire.
She told local television that evacuation centers needed urgent supplies of food and medicine for the refugees.
The government has said that the fighting will not disrupt the ongoing peace process and that the Supreme Court decision last week was a "temporary setback."
In Pikit, North Cotabato, nine-year-old Rakma Kasanuba sings lullabies to her baby sister as the infant tries to sleep in a makeshift hammock under a guava tree as mortars explode without end in the distance.
Her three other younger sisters sit on the muddy ground guarding their meager belongings while military attack helicopters thunder overhead searching for Muslim separatist rebels 400 meters away in a forested area.
At her tender age, Rakma is a veteran of evacuation camps.
"I don't know why I am here," she told AFP. "My family was told by the military to leave because they said Moros (Muslims) were advancing.
"We left at dawn, but my father had to stay behind to protect our house," Rakma said. "My mother took us here, but she is away to look for food and relatives who were also told to evacuate."
Rakma and her sisters are among 6,000 people forced to flee their homes in Tacepan, a mixed Christian-Muslim farming hamlet that is one of 22 villages being illegally occupied by a renegade group from the MILF.
In a town's school, families are tightly packed in small classrooms, with no bedding.
Latrines are overflowing, while goats, cows and other farm animals taken by the refugees crowd the school lawn in a feeding frenzy on what little grass is left.
Though soldiers have been sent to protect them, they are not safe from indiscriminate mortar fire from the enemy side.
Social welfare officer Imelda Balios said urgent appeals for supplies have been sent to the government to avert a bigger humanitarian crisis. - Pia Lee-Brago (Philstar News Service, www.philstar.com)