(Lessons from the IDP Leaders Humanitarian Protection Training last August 20-23, 2022)
Against the backdrop of the signed peace agreement between the Philippine government and MILF and the ongoing post-crisis reconstruction process is the threat of possible internal displacement. Forced evacuation can be due to protracted high-level armed conflict, clan wars, and environmental hazards.
The historical cycle of displacement, uncertainty, and marginalization of conflict-affected civilians puts the entire BARMM government‘s response to displacement and peacebuilding in the spotlight. As of the end of 2021, approximately 267,278 individuals in the whole Mindanao were internally displaced, and 37% percent of the population are located in the BARMM region (Bryant, Fernandez, & Baraguir, 2021).
Influencing how the government approaches the problem of displacement in Bangsamoro requires strong leadership not just in the BARMM government but also among the internally displaced population. To ensure that they are included in the broader conversations of the best route to recovery processes, they must be equipped with lobbying skills and learn how to engage and negotiate with their local leaders. And that they can articulate their inherent rights as IDPs.
The Mindanao Peoples Caucus, in partnership with The Asia Foundation through the IDP Resiliency Project, conducted a three-day IDP Leaders Humanitarian Protection Training last August 20-23, 2022. The primary objective of this training workshop was to develop the skills and knowledge needed by IDP Leaders to engage in discussions on policies and programs intended for them. The necessary knowledge and skills are essential in participating in policy-making, planning, budgeting, and implementing government projects and programs so that they can deliberately and confidently address the issues and concerns affecting their situations as IDPs.
Knowing one’s location in the context of displacement
The IDP leaders internalized how they could be organized and can be the source of each other’s protection. The resource person emphasized that in the absence of local peacekeeping forces, the individuals that made up the community can protect themselves from possible sources of conflicts, not as human shields, of course, but as a united community ready to stand up against external disruptive forces. The resource person demonstrated this community strength as she gave examples of communities successfully intervening and resisting the onset of ridu during a graduation ceremony in a particular conflict area in Maguindanao province.
Knowing one’s inherent rights
Beyond the self is the wider community where rights are manifested, protected, and claimed. IDP leaders are responsible for asserting their rights and ensuring the community enjoys them. With a clear vision of their leadership and knowledge of the IDP rights, the IDP leaders were prepared to draft their IDP plans and what they intend to do as leaders once they return to their communities.
Knowing where to begin
It was vital for them to include the role of the BARMM government and civil society organizations in removing the barriers that excluded them from participating in the rehabilitation dialogues. They want to represent themselves in committees that are currently talking about humanitarian responses and to be able to recommend efficient service delivery and protection. Being provided with platforms for doing so and having the resources to join such conversations were mentioned in the IDP plans for durable solutions.
More than the tangible support for rebuilding houses, they want to participate actively and meaningfully in conversations that will impact their lives.
(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
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.
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.
The series of Regional Dialogues continued to create synergy and proved to be the best way in getting the valuable insights of the CSO leaders in BARMM on the peace process as the Philippines enter a new political landscape.
The Mindanao Peoples Caucus in partnership with the United Nations International Organization on Migration through the Supporting Conflict Transformation towards Effective Peacebuilding in the Bangsamoro Region (STEP BARMM) Project conducted another round of regional dialogue.
There were 45 participants from Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Davao City, Cagayan De Oro, and Marawi who attended the 3-day forum at Eden Nature Park and Resort last June 7 to 9.
Ms. Mags Maglana facilitated the 3-day regional dialogue where the CSO leaders were able to voice out their sentiments, opinions, uncertainties, optimisms, and their plans for the future of peace and development in BARMM.
Focus in the discussion is how can the different CSOs help sustain and protect the gains of the Bangsamoro peace process and what are the necessary actions that CSOs must undertake. The regional dialogue was effective and participatory because, though constrained by time, everyone was given the chance to talk and be heard.
Minister Mohagher Iqbal of the Ministry of Basic, Higher, and Technical Education (MBHTE)–BARMM was also present during the second day of the regional dialogue. He encouraged everyone to “go back to the basic to understand the complexities of the problem.” He also stressed the vital role of dialogue in the peace development work, he said:
“Dialogue is a corner stone of MILF policies, we need to engage people, groups, and be able to identify common grounds… We open our doors to dialogue. While the past is important, the future is more important. You need to understand where they are coming from and their directions.”
As the group move forward, we hope to become more cohesive as group of CSO leaders working towards peace in Mindanao. As what Atty. Mary Ann Arnado, the Secretary General of MPC, said as she closed the 2nd regional dialogue, “We have a heavy task ahead but we will be doing this by holding hands together.”
The Digital Literacy Training started off by a backgrounder given by Mr. Ammier Dodo. He emphasized that as part of the BARMM, we all have to carry our advocacies wherever we go, be it digital or in any other form. Especially in the peace process, digital literacy is very important in the transition period. Everyone must be part of making sure that we altogether achieve moral governance.
On social media and countering fake news
For Abdulhadi Daguit, the digital literacy training meant correcting fake histories by sharing the real narratives or actual experiences of Marcos victims and survivors. Even in digital space, storytelling is a powerful tool against fake news.
Mr. Ammier stressed how fake news peddlers are “weaponizing” social media without us knowing. Participants learned how to identify disinformation channel and who are susceptible to fake news. One of the participants shared that some detractors create fake BARMM government websites. She shared, “Lalo na ngayon ay panahon ng eleksyon. We verify news sources. Imagine if a single person shares fake news. We have to be responsible citizens.”
Social media platforms
Mr. TU Alfonso walked us through the different social media platforms and pointed out the advantages and disadvantages of each one. Most of the participants shared that they have not really optimized Facebook in their advocacy work. Being able to use different platforms such as Tik-Tok, YouTube, and Facebook will enable them to reach out to more people and learn about their advocacies.
Creating Publication Materials
Many of the participants joined Digital Literacy Training for the first time. And as what Ammier Dodo said, one of the resource persons of the training, “Every time may first timer, nakaka excite kung ano ang magiging output ng training for them.” The resource persons introduced two PubMat-making tools- Canva and MsPublisher.
For Bencita joining the digital literacy training meant being able to bridge information on the importance of vaccination to her community through informative publication materials. She was a beginner at creating publication materials. The last digital training she had ever attended was how to use a type writer way back her school days. She said, ““Nadagdagan ang kaalaman ko sa Canva and MS Publisher kasi first time ko din. Lalo na ang Canva, napakalaking bagay na makatulong sa advocacy. Lalo na sa pag gawa ng tarpaulin para sa advocacy for vaccination.”
The resource speakers critiqued the outputs one by one, also giving the participants the opportunity to correct their outputs. They have learned several tips in terms of visual aesthetic to make the publication materials more interesting, catchy, and easier to comprehend for the audience.
Findings from the Training Needs Assessment identified digital conferencing skill as the participants’ priority topic in the digital literacy training. Zoom and Messenger are the two main conferencing platforms taught by the resource persons. One of the participants shared, “Gusto ko talagang matutunan yung zoom, kasi dati binibigyan ako ng link at di ako makapasok. Hanggang sa matapos na lang ang meeting ay di pa din ako maka pasok.”
The resource persons demonstrated how to use the platforms, first from the standpoint of the one creating the meeting and second as participant in a meeting. They walked us through the different features of both Zoom and Messenger.
Since most of the participants were using smartphones, the resource persons also introduced Zoom and Messenger features using multiple devices. After the demonstration, the participants have gotten to experience the digital conference platforms on their own. It was an exciting learning experience for them. They have also found out how to address sound feedbacking whenever two laptops were using Zoom or Messenger simultaneously in one place.
In the past two years during the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, the internet, online applications, mobile devices and all associated hardware and software have become firmly embedded in everyday life, to the extent that we lose control of the phenomena. For that matter, we need to develop digital literacy skills. Being able to communicate and to access and share reliable information online is central to CSOs and social movements. Undoubtedly, for MPC and our CSO partners working for the BARMM transition, being able to gain digital skills hold a lot of implications in advocacy work and complementing with the BARMM government.
The Mindanao Peoples Caucus in partnership with the United Nations International Organization on Migration through the Supporting Conflict Transformation towards Effective Peacebuilding in the Bangsamoro Region (STEP BARMM) Project, recently conducted a Participatory Action Research (PAR) entitled: “Promoting Conflict Prevention, Social Cohesion and CommunityResilience in BARMM in time of COVID-19.”
Various stakeholders and partners from the BARMM government and the CSOs joined together in examining the results of the Participatory Action Research results and findings during the recently concluded Regional Dialogue last March 24, 25, and 26, 2022 at the Waterfront Hotel, Davao City. The PAR findings and recommendations were presented by Ms. Melot Balisalisa-Atillo, the PAR team leader.
After the presentation, the participants were able to offer insights and fresh perspectives in examining the historical patterns of violence and its underlying drivers in BARMM’s most active conflict hotspots. The participants have clarified some points in the presentation, for example, the exact locations of the incidences and the people involved in the conflict, and how these were resolved. All in all, the participants were satisfied by the accuracy of the findings and affirmed the recommendations of the PAR.
Engineer Mojahirin Ali, the Director General of the Bangsamoro Planning and Development Authority presented the BARMM Development Plan and Roadmap 2025. He emphasized the BARMM government’s drive for inclusivity, reform, and innovation in implementing government projects and programs. He assured everyone that BARMM government were making strategies and decisions based on the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.
Director Farrah Naparan of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (OPAPRU) emphasized the need for joint effort between formal and informal sectors. She said that huge part of sustainability is on the part of the government, but there is also a need for work on the ground through parallel efforts of Civil Society Organizations. For OPPAP, they are mostly focused on the soft side rather than the infrastructures. They have conducted consultations and studied again bills, so we can move forward and lobby the NJRCP.
Ms. Melina Nathan lauded the PAR team in the success of the research. She also recognized the hard work of the BARMM government in reducing poverty incidence rate in the region. She also repeatedly emphasized how women must enter the decision making spaces in all structures of the government, from grassroots to parliamentary.
There was a breakout session wherein the participants offered more extensive and detailed narratives of the case studies presented by Ms. Melot Balisalisa during the PAR results presentation. The discussion in these breakout groups included supplementary narratives, analysis of gaps and opportunities in the research outputs, and recommendations for moving forward the different development and sectoral agenda in the BARMM government transition.
There was another breakout session on the last day of the regional dialogue wherein the participants were divided into four groups to discuss four topics. The topics were the following: 1) Strengthening Community Access to Peace Dividends , 2) Conflict Resolution and Peace Mechanisms, 3) Non-Moro IPs Ancestral Domain, and 4) Countering Violent Extremisms. In the open dialogue, the participants learn from each other and hear everyone’s point of view, created rooms for different perspectives and have collectively addressed the gaps in each of the topics based on each other’s experiences.
The last part of the regional dialogue was a sharing and open discussion on partnership building with stakeholders. As CSOs, they must be able to locate their roles in the transition process and think of ways to effectively partner with the BARMM government. Everyone agreed that the results of the PAR and the discussions during the regional dialogue must be communicated to all the ministers so that they can address the recommendations that surfaced from the forum.
In 2002, MPC founded the Bantay Ceasefire as an independent grassroots ceasefire monitoring mechanism which since then has grown to over a thousand well-trained and highly committed women and men volunteers. In 2010, upon the invitation of the peace panels, MPC has formally deployed an all-women contingent in the Civilian Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team.
Over the last 10 years, the MPC has been in the forefront of Peace advocacy work and has championed the peace talks between the Philippine Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front with the end in view of putting a final closure to the armed conflict in Mindanao through a negotiated political settlement. MPC supports the right to self-determination of the indigenous and Bangsamoro peoples and builds the much needed national and international solidarity in support of their struggles.
Mindanao Peoples Caucus envisions peaceful, self-governing and sustainable nations in Mindanao that respect the sacredness of human life in harmony with nature”
MPC works in partnership with grassroots communities and nations in Mindanao towards cultural empowerment, self–governance and sustainable development.
1. To create a sustainable economy and livelihood of nations founded on customary governance on traditional territories with an empowered cultural and well-beings.
2. To strengthen the formation of a critical mass of peace constituency that can influence, pressure and rally behind an acceptable and just political settlement of the armed conflict in Mindanao.
3. To create an enabling environment where rights of the civilians and all the vulnerable sectors will be protected through capacity building, policy reforms, and institutionalization of protection mechanisms.
4. To facilitate the effective participation of grassroots women in peace, governance and development processes through capacity building on transformative leadership, continuing advocacy on UNSCR 1325, and providing opportunities for economic empowerment.