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We always begin by ‘listening.’

(MPC’s listening sessions from June to August 2022)

“Mahirap maging IDP. Kailangan naming iwanan ang aming mga mahahalagang kagamitan, lalo na ang aming mga tahanan, mga hayop, at lahat ng aming kabuhayan.” (It’s not easy to be an IDP. We had to leave our valuables, especially our houses, livestock, and livelihoods.)

Norma Samaon, an internally displaced person from Brgy. Pageda, Talitay, July 20, 2022

A makeshift hall in Barangay Pageda, Municipality of Talitay, Maguindanao Province, where the Mindanao Peoples Caucus conducted one of its listening sessions last year, 2022. All seven sitios composing Barangay Pageda were affected by a firefight between two rival families last March 2020. The conflict was due to political reasons. The expressed needs of the IDPs are food, shelter, livelihood, and WASH support, among others.

Listening is an important first step in any humanitarian effort. And in designing durable solutions, the IDPs themselves are the most authentic source of information.

In line with this, the Mindanao Peoples Caucus and The Asia Foundation, through the IDP Resiliency Project, carried out an initial data collection in these areas through listening sessions, focus group discussions, key informant interviews, and secondary data analysis, consisting mostly of IDP records taken from LGUs and DSWD regional offices where IDPs are temporarily residing.

Old and new conflicts: setting the context of displacement in mainland Maguindanao

Abolition of MOA-AD in 2008

The tales of conflicts the IDPs shared dated way back to 2008, when the MILF announced a breakthrough in negotiations with a Memorandum of Agreement on the issue of an autonomous Moro homeland. A total of 750,000 persons were displaced, and numerous human rights cases of abuse took place during the 2008-2009 hostilities (Amnesty International, 2009).

BIFF and ISIS: vengeful splinter groups

After the MILF signed the peace agreement in 2014 with the Philippine government ending years of conflicts, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) started its all-out-offensive in 2015 against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The BIFF is a breakaway faction of the MILF that disagrees with the peace process and wants an independent Islamic State in the south. Despite the AFP’s claims of having defeated the BIFF, they have continuously conducted small group operations targeting the remaining 50% of BIFF members who have taken refuge in the Liguwasan marshlands and mountainous areas of the Maguindanao province.  In 2017, a conflict erupted between the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed wing of the MILF, and the ISIS-inspired local terrorist group in Datu Salibo, killing at least 25 people (Crisis Group, 2017). The influence of ISIS has spread throughout the Southeast Asian region, where more than 60 groups declared allegiance to the caliphate.

The political feud escalated to ridu

In 2020, the Municipality of Talitay was troubled by the cycle of violence between two political families, killing significant town officials. The ridu between the warring clans reached a bloody vendetta after the 2019 elections when one party breached the agreements made before the election. The conflict led to the displacement of hundreds of families and the fear of LGU workers to be identified with any warring group.

Who are the 2,211 recorded IDP families?

MPC community coordinators walking through the flooded roads of Barangay Bintan, in Kilalan, Municipality of Talitay as they conduct the first listening session.

The invisible population

On July 29, 2022, the field coordinators visited Shariff Saydona and Datu Salibo and were surprised to find out that the local government units (LGUs) do not have IDP records. Seemingly forgotten, the officials interviewed by the team do not know the whereabouts of their former residents. Even the IDPs in Madtabayog, Datu Piang said they “have no voice” in the LGU. Suppose ever the MPC would provide any tangible support for them. In that case, they suggest MPC should engage or connect with them directly instead of forwarding the assistance to the LGUs for distribution.

Help and support remain challenging for the “unrecorded” IDPs. From the series of listening sessions in Datu Piang, Talitay, Datu Salibo, Shariff Saydona, Mamasapano, and Datu Saudi, a total of 2,211 families were recorded and validated. Some lived in evacuation sites, rented houses in neighboring barangays, or stayed with relatives.

The prevailing lack of representation and identification of IDP camp populations has influenced assistance to the IDPs. Missing records meant missing out on social services.

“We need to identify the needs in the community. We have fishers, farmers, and entrepreneurs. We have to conduct data collection and identify the demographics of the population. We have to address the needs of each population. Conduct FGD and gather the IDP leaders from the home-based IDPs and the evacuation center IDPs, and this, we may develop a proposal for projects.”

Akas Saguia, IDP leader, resident of Datu Piang

The renters

In the 2008 war between the AFP and MILF, many lived in fear in overcrowded camps, nursing uncertainties amid war. Some lived with relatives or in makeshift shelters on roadsides. IDPs still live in deplorable situations in evacuation sites in Barangay Madtabayog, Datu Piang. From the listening session conducted by MPC last July 12, 2022, IDPs had to pay P100.00 per month as a “rental fee” to the landowner where they are temporarily settling. Since the IDPs temporarily reside in private properties, there is always a threat of forced eviction.

In a listening session in Datu Piang last July 12, 2022, the IDPs living in Barangay Madtabayog raised problems of insufficient water supply and WASH facilities in their current location. Their recent locations were also severely affected by flooding due to perennial rains and typhoons. As temporary settlers uprooted from their farmlands, they had difficulties adjusting to urban life.

From the listening sessions conducted in the municipality of Talitay, 198 families have not yet returned to their villages. IDPs lived outside their villages in temporary shelters made from donated plastic tarpaulins and woven coconut leaves for more than a year after the bloody clan war. Without sustainable sources of income, the IDPs live off humanitarian assistance and informal livelihoods.

A family to the BIFFs

The presence of BIFF family members among the population of IDPs remained to deter and slow down the return and resettlement plans for the IDPs. In a listening session conducted in Datu Saudi, the IDPs shared that designing return and resettlement plans were challenging because some of the men in their community are BIFFs. The IDP women feared being associated with the BIFFs, but at the same time, they also missed their husbands. When asked about resettlement plans, the IDPs preferred the area near the highway to make it easier and safer for their BIFF family members to visit and avoid chance encounters with the government armed forces.

“Di sila pwedeng magkita or else magkakagulo talaga. Dapat ma identify ang mga pamilyang may involvement [sa BIFFs] at yung mga ordinaryong sibilyan. Pero di naman natin yan malalaman kasi di nila yan sasabihin.”

Norodin Guiamaludin, field coordinator, in his sharing about the situations of IDPs in Talitay and Datu Saudi

Respect begins with listening

Most of the time, in listening, healing begins when both the IDPs and the humanitarian actors reflect on how needs are met and how lasting solutions can be found in their displacement. It is the role of humanitarian people and the government to listen without ‘cherry-picking’ what they can give to those who fit their definition of ‘IDPs.’

While we listen to their dreams and aspirations for the future, we must also listen to their stories of human rights and humanitarian abuses. We have to listen to the people we seek to help because they know, more than anyone else, how they can be supported and what they need.

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