In just three (3) months, the health crisis had overtaken the political transition process in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) with far-reaching impact on health, the economy, and community life. Rallying towards an immediate and singular mission in defeating COVID-19, the BARMM focused on the public health emergency while festering issues on land in many conflict-affected areas have snuffed lives, torn apart families and neighbors, and displaced hundreds of civilians making them most vulnerable in the pandemic threat.
BARMM is home to many towns considered to be the poorest and least stable and it also hosts the biggest number of internally displaced persons (IDP) due to disasters and armed conflict. In particular, the recent spate of armed hostilities and forced evacuations have resulted in more than 20,000 individuals displaced from three (3) provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato. Moreover, the deeply-entrenched insecurities in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi continue to mirror the multi-faceted landscape of extreme poverty, instability and underdevelopment.
This humanitarian and security situation is disheartening and worrisome as we struggle with a public health emergency. The pandemic predicament of coping with the ‘new normal’ now incorporates displacement and armed conflict.
We, civil society groups in Mindanao, are expressing our direct plea for a “humanitarian ceasefire” to be enforced and supported by the political, security, humanitarian and peace actors in the BARMM. This is an appeal towards more durable solutions to armed conflict, civilian protection, safe return, and humanitarian access in the conflict-affected areas.
We raise grave concern over the recent armed incidents in South Upi, Lebak, and Pikit that have resulted in internal displacements and killings. These involve multiple armed actors instigating hostilities and displacing civilians mostly coming from the indigenous communities (Non-Moro Indigenous Peoples) who are caught in the crossfire and driven out from their own ancestral domain. If left unattended, violence occurring in these municipalities that serve as flashpoints will spillover to other areas and potentially lead to a large-scale humanitarian crisis. A resurgence of armed hostilities such as these is a wake-up call for peace and security mechanisms to come to the fore in addressing the conflict spiral in the midst of COVID-19.
We are urging the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU), the BARMM duty holders, the ceasefire mechanisms, the security sector and the decommissioned Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and other non-state armed groups and private armies to support and commit to the following appeal
- Declare an immediate stand-down by all armed actors (state and non-state) and implement a cessation of hostilities during the pandemic. Proclaim the conflict hot spots and potential flashpoints as “humanitarian peace zones”, to facilitate unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance, civilian protection, and COVID response;
- Safeguard and ensure protection of civilians in conflict-affected areas by security sector actors and peace process mechanisms (i.e. CCCH and IMT-CPC), including the participation of independent civilian monitors;
- Mobilize and sustain humanitarian support to all IDPs in evacuation sites, who are home-based, and those who recently returned to their villages; with particular response to the protection needs of children and women;
- Guarantee the IDPs’ right to safe and dignified return and access to humanitarian and durable solutions;
- Grant IDPs full and priority access to all health and social protection programs of the government on COVID-19;
- Facilitate inclusive spaces for dialogue for affected/displaced communities, involving all important stakeholders and conflicting parties;
- Support the continuance of a more inclusive Normalization process and the activation of its mechanisms during the pandemic (i.e. decommissioning process, joint security structures, camp transformation, and dismantling of private armed groups);
- Fast track relevant regional codes and legislations to provide policy support to address challenges related to political inclusion, post-conflict governance, peacebuilding, transitional justice, and including the immediate passage of the IP code to entrench minority rights and indigenous governance.
Since the BARMM is birthed by a negotiated political settlement, the fragile peace and on-the-ground realities call for continuous risk monitoring and conflict mitigation measures as parallel efforts with the containment and surveillance protocols in the COVID-19 national action plan. As IDPs are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, the humanitarian crisis response necessarily has to be integrated in the overall health emergency response.
In light of the rising armed hostilities and land contestations, we call on all political, peace, humanitarian and security actors to heed our peace call. Let us work together in pursuing the imperatives of peacebuilding, de-escalating armed violence, and strengthening community participation in finding local and durable solutions alongside efforts to address the health emergency in the BARMM.
MINDANAO PEACEWEAVERS (MPW)
Kaakbay Bangsamoro working group
- Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc.
- Balay Rehabilitation Center, Inc (Balay)
- Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS)
- GZO Peace Institute, Inc (GZOPI)
- Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)
- Interreligious Solidarity for Peace (ISP)
- Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC)
- Mindanao Peoples Peace Movement (MPPM)
- Mindanao Solidarity Network (MSN)
- Peace Advocates Zamboanga Foundation (PAZ)
- Peacebuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI)
- Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN)
- Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance (ZABIDA)
- Ako Bakwit
- Ateneo Institute of Anthropology – Ateneo de Davao University
- Bangsamoro Women Service Center (BWSC)
- Center for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) – Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Center for Peace Education (CPE) – Miriam College
- Child Alert
- Christians for Peace Movement (CfPM)
- Coffee for Peace, Inc
- forum ZFD
- Generation Peace Youth Network (GenPeace)
- Indigenous Peoples Center for Emergency, Peace and Development (IPCEPD)
- Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) – Mindanao
- Kutawato Multimedia Network (KuMuNet)
- Missionary Society of Columban
- Organization of Teduray and Lambangian Conference (OTLAC)
- Pax Christi Pilipinas
- PILIPINA, Inc.
- Reconciliatory Initiatives for Development Opportunities, Inc (RIDO)
- Transcend Pilipinas
- Women Engaged in Action on 1325 (WEAct 1325)
- Women’s Peace Collective (WPC)
- Fr Joel Tabora, S.J. – President, Ateneo de Davao University
- Neil Ryan Pancho – Department of Political Science & History, Ateneo de Davao University
- Mark Paul Samante – Ateneo UCEAC Chairperson
- Samira Gutoc
- Rev. Luis Daniel Alba Pantoja
- Sr Telma Argate, OND
- Dr Aurora de Dios
- Dr Socorro Reyes
- Felicitas B. Pantoja
- Bebot Saligan
- Violeta Gloria
- Nash-Far M. Berganio