The undersigned organizations representing various peace networks, non-government organizations and international humanitarian agencies working in Mindanao are deeply concerned with the ongoing violence in Maguindanao which has now spilled to already more than five municipalities.

Stop the war, Save the Civilians, Save the Evacuees!

The undersigned organizations representing various peace networks, non-government organizations and international humanitarian agencies working in Mindanao are deeply concerned with the ongoing violence in Maguindanao which has now spilled to already more than five municipalities.

We are especially concerned with the situation of some 2,000 evacuee-families who have yet to receive any relief assistance. Relief organizations, including even government agencies have not been allowed to get near the affected communities, where the refugees are stuck even as they try to be mobile. Both the government and the MILF could not assure the security of relief workers. Not even the usually effective Joint MILF and Government Ceasefire Committee nor the International Monitoring Team is able to penetrate the actual zones of fighting.

The estimate of 2,000 evacuee-families, though rough, is based on an average of 200 families in each of the nine barangays where houses have reportedly been abandoned by residents, some of whom do not even feel safe evacuating to the town center.

But the so-called mobile-evacuees, in this case, believe they are in a better situation compared to their relatives and neighbors who have been left trapped between the two warring groups.

Unknown to many Filipinos who have been engrossed following the boxing brouhaha between Manny Pacqiuao and Darios Larios, over a thousand evacuee-families—women, children and elderly have meanwhile been uprooted in five of the nine barangays that have been partly submerged in water with the flood from the downpours the past days. The ensuing flood is the least of the evacuees’ worries. What they really dread is the rain of mortars, bullets and bombs that have been the bane of this land almost all their lives.

An initial ocular visit of NGOs to some evacuation communities the other day already showed signs of an imminent outbreak of diseases among the evacuees and the situation can be far worse for those who have been ensnared between the GRP and MILF forces and who also have to deal with the flood.

From only two barangays affected on the first day of the encounters to a total of nine villages in only a span of some 36 hours, local folks and civil society organizations are fearful that the ongoing battle indeed, has the potential ingredients of escalating to a full-blown war making it more difficult to control the forces involved if they do not immediately disengage. Once this happens, we could not help but brood that this is again the rekindling of a vicious three-year cycle of war in this part of the country– another exodus of people in front of seemingly callous eyes of forces who have avowed to protect them and of civil society organizations always willing and eager to help but rendered as helpless as other government agencies not allowed to get near the affected communities themselves.

Ironically, all these are unfolding when the government and the MILF have announced that they are virtually towards the homestretch of their peace negotiations and claim that they are both bent at signing a comprehensive peace accord before the year ends. This is happening when the same faces of wary people trooping to safer grounds have even yet to start rebuilding their communities ravaged by past wars. These undesirable events have to happen while government and non-government organizations’ community development initiatives have just started to flower.

While the exceptional efforts exerted by the dedicated and committed members of the Joint Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities and the International Monitoring Team are no doubt commendable, this particular incident glaringly affirms the need for government and civil society organizations to work together on the ground if only to preserve the relative peace that we now enjoy and help provide an atmosphere conducive to a peaceful settlement of the Mindanao conflict.

We particularly call on the Department of Interior and Local Government to verify if indeed the armed men engaging the MILF are members of Civilian Volunteer Organizations because we know for a fact that CVOs are supposed to be unarmed.

Similarly, we call upon all peace advocates in the country and the world to help us lobby for our President to listen to the raging cries of our people for peace, justice and respect for human dignity and order all government forces to still their guns. Similarly, we appeal to the MILF to exercise restraint, continue to observe the ceasefire and allow the Joint Ceasefire Committee to help normalize the situation. And after stopping the war and in an effort to regain the IDP’s dignity let us all join hands together in attending to the immediate needs of the evacuees while we continue to seek solutions to address the roots of this seemingly perpetual conflict.

In the same way that the evacuees need to gain back their dignity, the family of the bombing victims of Shariff Aguak also needs to regain their dignity, hence, the need for a thorough, speedy and impartial investigation into the bombing so that perpetrators are immediately brought to justice.

Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society
Bantay Ceasefire
Bangsamoro Women Foundation
Initiatives for International Dialogue
Mindanao Peoples Caucus
Peace Advocate Zamboanga (PAZ)
Zambasulta Coalition of Peace Advocates (ZACOPA)
United Youth of the Philippines-Women
Mindanao People’s Peace Movement
Kadtuntaya Foundation Inc.
Mindanao PeaceWeavers
Federation of Reporters for Empowerment and Equality
Oxfam GB
Mindanao Tulong Bakwit
Balay Mindanao
United Youth of the Philippines
Balay Rehabilitation Center
United Youth for Peace and Development
Save the Children
Minsed Foundation, Inc.
Bangsamoro Center for Just Peace in the Phils.