Manila,13 January 2011 – If you are a person displaced by the Moro conflict in southern Philippines, chances are you not only struggle to survive but also to be heard.
In a meeting on the safe return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) this year, a colleague observed, “Why is the IDP perspective on what safe return means for them absent in this discussion?” The government was resolved to restore any semblance of stability by closing evacuation centres in their towns while many agencies report safe return an indicator of success. Many meetings on protection and security have no IDP representation.
JRS presence on the southern islands of Mindanao is a response to the struggle of IDPs to be heard. In Maguindanao, a province in Mindanao region, where most of the evacuation centres are located, JRS and partners assist IDPs in organising and providing access for the IDPs to present their peace and security concerns to the government and stakeholders.
In June, a group of IDPs have met with the Secretary for the Department of Social Welfare and Development to present their security and protection concerns. Learning from past experiences, JRS finds a dialogue process between concerned parties that is direct and personal the most effective advocacy strategy.
In Lanao, JRS supports 150 extremely vulnerable households with assistance to undertake income-generating activities, and provides them with skills training and emergency assistance; this enables them to cope better with their recurring displacement.
These legitimate household-based IDPs, the name given to displaced persons who live with nearby local families and not in camps, are not given support by the government. Only two international NGOs, including JRS, are present in Lanao compared to a network of development agencies that have congregated in Maguindanao.
The Moro conflict in Mindanao has been raging on for four decades and displaced thousands of people. Although many agreements have been signed, no consensus towards a peaceful resolution has been reached.
Working with partners in co-implementing activities on the ground highlights the learning process that JRS is going through since it initiated activities in July 2010. JRS works with Mindanao People’s Caucus network, based in Cotabato City in Maguindanao, and with the Ranao Integrated Assistance Programme, a local Muslim NGO based in Marawi City in Lanao region.
The criteria of choosing priorities – where need is greatest, where it can be most effective, where resources are available, where few groups are present and gaps in services exist – continues to guide JRS engagement and future directions. By responding to their struggle to be heard, JRS can assist the IDPs to discern their real needs.