Stop the food blockade in Maguindanao!

Jun. 14, 2009

Nearly a year since military operations were launched against two field commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the commanders are still on the loose and the civilians are suffering the brunt of war: children, pregnant women, teachers, students, the civilian population in Maguindanao

For more than ten months now, these internally displaced persons (IDPs) — evacuees or ‘bakwits’ as they have come to be known — are still in cramped evacuation centers and government buildings and schoolhouses, waiting for the time when they can return to their homes and resume their interrupted lives.

But the war has instead become so vicious and soldiers who are supposed to be running against renegade MILF commanders for allegedly attacking civilians are now committing the very same atrocities that renegade commanders allegedly perpetuate.

In Cotabato City on May 28, during the coordination meeting among humanitarian agencies and leaders of the IDPs, groups dealing with humanitarian response complained that the military is undermining the relief operations by dictating when and how much relief should come in.

The military refuses to acknowledge that this constitutes a “food blockade.” But it is food blockade, nonetheless, when food intended for evacuees are held at checkpoints.

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) condemns this practice of blocking humanitarian assistance to the evacuees and believes that as justice delayed is justice denied, food delayed is food denied as well. And food denied could, as we all know, help save starving bakwits from preventable deaths.

The United National Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID) states under Principle 10 that “Internally displaced persons (IDPs) shall be protected, in particular against starvation as a form of combat”. Principle 25 also states that “All authorities concerned shall grant and facilitate the free passage of humanitarian assistance and grant persons engaged in the provision of such assistance rapid and unimpeded access to the internally displaced”.

Depriving evacuees of food is a violation of human rights. It is absolutely unacceptable and civil society and church organizations including international humanitarian agencies should stand up and assert the independence of relief assistance as a matter of right for the IDPs. Our silence on this regard can be construed as our acquiescence to military’s control of relief supplies to promote their military objective.

As reported during the meeting, out of the 50,333 families displaced in Maguindanao, only 15,522 families have been provided with relief assistance. On top of this, there are civilians trapped inside Datu Piang and Libotan and effectively cut off from whatever outside help and contact.

MPC also condemns the systematic burning of hundreds of civilian homes in Maguindanao which is clearly an assault against civilian population and a direct violation of international humanitarian laws. We urge the Commission of Human Rights to investigate all these atrocities and bring those responsible for the attacks to justice.

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