Building Bridges

Gains, opportunities, and challenges for CSOs and IDPs Partnership

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) find strength in diversity, in its participatory nature, and sectoral focus. Because most of its programs and projects concentrate in the local level such as in barangays, municipalities, and cities, access and delivery of services are efficient and tailored to the immediate needs and the local contexts.

The role of the CSOs in coming up with durable solutions for the IDPs is especially significant and strategic. They are in the best position to partner with local chief executives and to serve as bridges for the locals to make their concerns heard and addressed by the local government.

Sharing stories and possibilities

There are various CSOs in BARMM engaging with the displaced population and the MPC gathered them in a forum together with the IDP leaders to talk about durable solutions. The IDPs and CSO Forum was an opportunity to share the situations of the IDPs in the BARMM region and the civil society’s efforts to address displacement.

Akas Sanguila, an IDP leader, opened the conversation by setting the context of displacement in Datu Saudi, Shariff Saydona, Talitay, Mamasapano, Datu Salibo, and Datu Piang.

“We hope that the CSOs will serve as the bridge between the government and the IDPs so that that our leaders will see the realities faced we face in a daily basis.”

Akas Sanguila, IDP Leader

The IDP leaders presented their plans for durable solutions. Afterward, the CSO representatives responded to the IDP plans by offering their current services and engagements with IDPs in the six municipalities.

A cauldron of creative minds

Bringing in their capacities, expertise, and commitments, the CSO representatives looked into the entry points for collaboration with BARMM line agencies, IDP leaders, and MPC. Although limitation in fundings and human resources was a challenge among the CSOs, together the group thought of ways to synchronize all its efforts on the ground and somehow tried to bridge hiatus in between project cycles. Together we identified ongoing projects and in what areas the CSOs are operating. In addition, we identified the government ministries we can partner with in joint efforts especially those that already have programs for the IDPs. The spirit of volunteerism was alive and invigorating during the forum despite of the possible issues and gaps identified during the planning.

The MPC would like to thank the IDP leaders and the CSO representatives who attended the forum, mainly, The Asia Foundation, Tiyakap Kalilintad, IDEALS, UnyPhil- Women, OXFAM, International Organization for Migration, UNYPAD, MOSEP, MWDECC, CBCS, Non-Violent Peace Force, Catholic Relief Services, and Community Organizers Multiversity sa Mindanao.

CSOs and IDPs brainstorming during the workshop session.

Building bridges together

Restoring the dignity of internally displaced persons requires a multi-sectoral approach. No single organization can act on its own when it comes to addressing the plight of the IDPs. The IDPs, the government, and the CSOs have an essential role in finding solutions for internal displacement and thus sustaining the gains of the peace process in the BARMM region.

Regional Dialogue: linking research and policy-making

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC), in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Philippines, organized a two-day Regional Dialogue and Training Workshop in Exploring the Nexus of Conflict, Climate Change, and Human Mobility, and the Lived Experiences of the Bangsamoro last March 17 and 18 at the Eden Nature Park and Resort in Davao City.

This regional Dialogue has convened policymakers, environmental advocates, climate change advocates, officials, and representatives from different local government units (LGUs) to discuss the dire state of climate change in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Converging problems

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus presented and validated its research findings on the Climate Change, Conflict, and Human Mobility Nexus by describing three cases of evident interlinkages experienced by communities in mainland Maguindanao and BASULTA (Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) island provinces.

While climate change cause or exacerbate conflict (e.g., competition for dwindling resources, changing land boundaries, movement of camps, and acquisition of new lands, etc.), conflict, in turn, prevents people from successfully coping with climate change- a double bind, preempting cooperation. The existing conflict and climate change impacts already experienced by the communities in BARMM both erode or slow down the locals’ capacities to create adaptive measures, making the BARMM region vulnerable to climate-change concerns.

The speaker from MAFAR (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Agrarian Reform) shared that some agriculturally-driven communities had to leave their livestock at the onset of conflict. Initially provided by MAFAR, the goats were consumed by the soldiers who camped in the barangay. Harvest failures also occurred, especially since rainfall has become unpredictable for the past decade. Both armed conflict and climate change disrupted agricultural life and threatened food security, which drove people to engage in armed conflict, gun hires, drug selling, and illegal migration. 

Fragmented approaches

There is an apparent gap in understanding how conflict cuts across climate change and displacement problems. There are several pathways that conflict, climate change, and displacement converge or even form a nexus, which were explained during the research presentation. The problem was so intricately converged, but the way it was addressed at present is fragmented or in silos.

As observed during the panel discussion, each ministry follows its mandates and works within the boundaries of predetermined programs and projects. Not even localized, but ones downloaded from the national level to the region for implementation. The danger of top to bottom approach is that local government units and regional-level department counterparts would stick to reaching a certain quota and implementing projects for implementation.

An example was the formulation of municipal-level LCCAPs (Local Climate Change Action Plans) which, even according to the Climate Change Commission officer present during the forum, were similar across all municipalities. As if they were all ‘copy-pasted.’ These two words were mentioned constantly during the discussion and manifest the underlying process in developing the plan and all other regional development plans.

While the ministries fear duplication or overlapping of programs and strictly follow the thematic focus of their respective ministries, there must be an elaboration on how the programs address the interlinking phenomenon holistically. For example, how can MENRE’s climate change mitigation projects potentially decrease conflict incidences? Or, in the case of MILG, how can they guide the LGUs in the localization of their development plans so that they will be both conflict-sensitive and adaptive to climate change impacts?

The many roles of women

Noraida Chio stirred an extensive discussion on the plight of the displaced Muslim women in BARMM. Not only were they prone to illegal recruitment, but also to become their husbands’ ‘milking cows’ or their easy source of income. The existing conflict, disinterest in engaging with traditional sources of income such as agriculture, desire for a better place to settle, urging from the family, and the availability of illegal means to apply abroad- all of these are factors in the migration of Muslim women.

However, being the one who earns doesn’t automatically translate to greater decision-making power or an excuse to shy away from her traditional gender role. They still carry the huge obligation of taking care of the family.

Human Mobility is an adaptation to conflict and climate change/ environmental degradation. While there is nothing wrong with migration as an adaptive strategy, it has to be safe, informed, and a free decision.

A policy towards a holistic approach

The challenge now is how the Bangsamoro government and the humanitarian forces working in the region can address the risks of the nexus. And what are the next steps for translating these research findings into peace-building practice and policy? What mitigation and adaptation practices are conflict and climate-change sensitive that can be applied in the BARMM region?

– MP Atty. Mary Ann M. Arnado, in her message as one of the members of the panel of reactors during the Regional Dialogue

“It is very very important for all of us to acknowledge and wake up to the new reality that we are in a climate change emergency. It should be acknowledged because if we do not look at that particular aspect, we will all be in a vicious cycle, and our interventions will not be cost-effective.”

-MP Baileng Mantawil, Member of the Parliament, in her reaction on financing climate change mitigation and adaptation mechanisms

“The issue of Climate Change is a global concern; part of it is the BARMM communities. While we are busy addressing peace, let’s not forget the great danger that we are now facing.”

It is crucial that the regional Dialogue stirred the conversation between policymakers, researchers, CSOs, local government units, and the ministries to talk about how to translate and concretize the key findings and recommendations from the study to address the pressing issues on conflict, climate change, and massive displacement in the Bangsamoro region.

The policymakers should investigate the viability of creating a regional body or office to ensure the BARMM government’s actions concerning climate change and conflicts are more coherent, systematic, and programmatic. Most importantly, such an office must rely on evidence-based programming to ensure it addresses the nexus.

A holistic approach to protracted displacement

(Lessons from the series of municipal consultations in Shariff Saydona, Datu Salibo, Mamasapano, Datu Saudi, Datu Piang, and Talitay from September 2022 to February 2023)

Restoring the dignity of internally displaced persons requires a multi-sectoral approach. A municipal consultation is a multi-sectoral approach to addressing the needs of the IDPs and discussing the options for sustainable solutions to their problems.

Since September of last year, the MPC, through its partnership with The Asia Foundation, brought together key line agencies in the BARMM government, the IDP leaders, relevant CSOs, and the municipal government units in a series of municipal consultations in the areas of Shariff Saydona, Datu Salibo, Mamasapano, Datu Saudi, Datu Piang, and Talitay.

In the municipal consultations, the IDP leaders presented the action points they came up with during the leadership and humanitarian protection training in Davao City. Even though the IDPs have approximately the same dream of returning home, often the municipality’s mayors or administrative heads deemed it necessary to provide a brief contextualization on the ground in each IDP location because of the volatile peace situation in the areas.

What is a durable solution for the IDPs

“Kung bibigyan nga kami ng pabahay at makakabalik kami sa aming dating barangay, mahirap din naman kung wala kaming kuryente, pa tubig, o pangkabuhayan doon. Mas maigi pang manatili na lang kami dito kung saan kami nakatira ngayon kasi may mga hanap-buhay na din kami dito. Mahirap nang iwanan ang mga nasimulan naming dito sa bago naming tinitirhan.”
(It will be great if they will build houses for us. But it won’t be easy to return home without the necessary social support, such as electricity, water system, and livelihood. It’s better to stay where we reside because we have already established our livelihoods here. Leaving what we have already started in our new resettlement areas will be challenging.)
Woman IDP leader, a former resident of Mamasapano who is now residing in Shariff Saydona

“Nagpapasalamat kami na pinuntahan niyo kami dito sa Saydona at nalaman namin ang mga programa ng BARMM para sa amin. Tatanggapin naming ang ano mang tulong na ibibigay sa amin. Pag sinasabi nating bumalik sa dating tahanan, di lang naman ibig sabihin nun pa bahay. Kelangan din namin ng pagkain, pagkakakitaan, seguridad, at iba pa. Pero kung ano man maipapa-abot ng BARMM sa amin, busong puso naming tatanggapin yun.”

(We thank you [BARMM line agencies] for coming to Saydona and finding out about BARMM’s programs for us. We will accept any help you can give us. To return home doesn’t end in building houses; we need to be able to sustain ourselves, livelihood, and security, among others. But we will wholeheartedly accept any forms of help the BARMM government can give us.)

IDP Leader, an Ustad and a former resident of Shariff Saydona, displaced because of armed conflict between the BIFF and the military in their barangay

The IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in all the target municipalities dream of better lives. While some IDPs were able to settle in the area they are displaced, others prefer to return home provided there is peace in their places of origin, and they are given support. For this to happen, pre-conditions must be laid out beforehand, such as the assurance of safety, tangible assistance from government and humanitarian actors, job opportunities, and, most importantly, decent housing.

Response of the municipal government leaders

“It is important to have a profile of the IDPs first so we will know the characteristics of the population. From my experience of being the MDRRMO for 30 years in Saydona, the host communities should provide for the IDPs who evacuated in their areas. Also, what about those who have already resettled and integrated into their host communities? Is it still viable for them to return home, or should we support their current livelihoods? Because it is only useful to return them home if we can assure the peace and security of their barangays. We cannot provide ‘band-aid’ solutions. The root cause of the problems must be addressed first. We need a holistic approach involving all the BARMM ministries, all stakeholders, and all the peace forces.”

MDRRM Officer Shariff Saydona, in his closing statement at the last municipal consultation

The Municipal Secretary of Datu Saudi said that the municipality passed an executive order to ensure the safety of the IDPs and that their rights are protected. He also repeatedly emphasized the necessity of studying the local social issues in the area before proceeding with any project for the barangays.

The Local Government Unit of Talitay, led by the Hon. Sidik S. Amiril recognized the importance of political commitment and the essential role of the LGU authorities in addressing the issues of the IDPs in their municipality—furthermore, Hon. Amiril laid out the current efforts of the LGU in settling conflicts in their municipality.

However, not all municipal mayors attended the municipal consultations, and we can see the disappointment among the IDPs looking forward to their leaders’ responses to their plights. In their stead, the MDRRMO officers or the administrative head of the municipalities were the ones who relayed the mayors’ message of support to the current and planned efforts for the IDPs.

Response from BARMM ministries and CSOs

The MHSD (Ministry of Human Settlements and Development) assured that the IDPs would be facilitated in accessing housing and livelihood services as mandated by their office. Given the limited government budget, other relevant private sectors are willing to help provide infrastructure, housing, and services.

The MSSD (Ministry of Social Services and Development) representatives presented their current programs for the IDPs and how they can be accessed. Although they strongly emphasized the role of the LGUs in accessing such support from the BARMM government agencies. The LGU leaders should map out the extent of humanitarian aid, present the list of IDPs, and define the needs of the IDPs per sector.

From the peace forces, MPOS (Ministry of Public Order and Safety), CCCH (Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities), and AHJAG (Ad Hoc Joint Action Group) informed the IDPs and the partners present during the consultation of the past and current efforts of the peace agencies in trying to resolve the conflicts in the municipalities. With this, they assured that they would find solutions to the problem and assist them in their return once it’s already safe. However, they also informed the communities of the skirmishes in some barangays in the target municipalities, which will also prevent them from returning.

The representative from MOSEP (Mindanao Organization for Social and Economic Progress) presented their organization’s current projects and programs in Datu Saudi. MOSEP provided dignity kits to the women IDPs, cash assistance to pregnant women, awareness-raising on the law against child marriage, and other capacity-building activities for women and children.

The CBCS (Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society) was also present in the consultation in Shariff Saydona and gave a background of their organization. Right now, the CBCS, in partnership with Atty. Raissa Jajurie’s office is working on the passage of the IDP Bill, which successfully went through a second reading in the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority). She handed out info-magazines, pamphlets, and IEC materials for everyone to read and review the rights of the IDPs.

Holistic approach

The main criteria in their decision include: security in their home village, access to land, access to basic services and economic opportunities. The complexity of the IDPs’ displacement surfaced during the municipal consultations.

However, we need to first recognize the scale of internal displacement in municipalities in addressing the IDP problem together. By engaging the displacement-affected communities, the BARMM line agencies, the LGUs, and the humanitarian actors, we can all achieve more effective responses supporting durable solutions for the IDPs.

The IDPs often describe themselves as the “invisible” and the “voiceless” in the LGUs, and so the series of municipal consultations was an effort to promote the integration, participation, and non-discrimination in the entire process of humanitarian response.

The ideas, opinions, and experiences shared during the municipal consultation resulted in a rich and diverse collection of information that will be used in laying out the following steps to attaining durable solutions for the IDPs.

Women’s Leadership and Political Participation Training

Integrating feminine leadership into one’s identity is particularly difficult among women in BARMM region where credibility is established in a culture that privileges patriarchal or masculinist authority. Dominant perceptions and misconceptions still are prevalent that women are not cut out for leadership. And so hearing personal experiences of women leaders challenging the conventional ways of leadership are always beautiful, invigorating, and inspirational. There is no scarcity in women leaders, but there exists an environment that stifles their potentials. 

Last May 16-19 the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, through its Grassroots Learning Hub project, conducted the 4-day Women’s Leadership and Political Participation Training held in Eden Nature Park and Resort. It was a convention of both seasoned and emerging women leaders from the Moro and IP communities in BARMM region. The participants are partners of MPC, mainly, from Bangsamoro Free Election Movement (BFEM), Moro Women Development and Cultural Center, Inc. (MWDCC), UNYPAD, Social Welfare Committee (SWC), Women’s Organization of Rajah Mamalu Descendants (WORMD), Indigenous Women Research Center (IWRC), and Bantay Ceasefire.

The training consisted of various topics about Gender Concepts and Feminist Leadership, Situational Analysis of Women Political Participation during the Bangsamoro Transition Period, Advocacy and Lobby Skills, Effective Communication and Public Speaking.

They have also watched two videos, one was Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising Campaign, and second was Manal Omar’s Women at the Negotiating Table. Both videos showed how women leaders can embrace their own femininity in leadership. 

The women leaders were able to practice their skills and knowledge on the following topics through a practical exercise in conducting press conference and lobbying session. Many legitimate questions aroused during the two sessions mainly concerning the status of the IP Code, Electoral Code, situation of communities outside the Bangsamoro region, intensification of women’s political participation in all levels of government, peace dividends, and the role of CSOs in the transition period among others. The women leaders showed their knowledge in the BARMM issues and skills in interpolating with the media and BTA members in these practical exercises.

The MPC acknowledges that more than acquiring new skills and having more knowledge in social issues within BARMM is not sufficient. The learning must be coupled with a growing sense of feminine identity as a leader and that they must anchor their leadership purpose in potentials and strengths they already possessed as women. The Women’s Leadership and Political Participation Training is not the beginning of the process of materializing this vision, but this is a continuation of the many years that the MPC, together with its partners have built an environment that overcomes barriers to women’s leadership and participation.