Philippines Peace Advocates Decry ‘Humanitarian Quagmire’ in Sulu

Apr. 30, 2007


From war zone, to economic zone is the official slogan of the Province
of Sulu.

But it is back to war zone again– that is how civil society describes
the situation in Sulu today. In this tiny, but perennially embattled
island, what is abnormal has become normal. Community life is permeated
with insecurity, suspicions and violence. And with over fifty thousand
evacuees now rendered homeless because of the renewed fighting between the
military and the Moro National Liberation Front, Sulu is embroiled in a
humanitarian quagmire.

The voice of one Babuh Insih is telling. Babu, who hails from Indanan
revealed in a round-table forum in Zamboanga early this week that this
recent war marks the 13th time she has evacuated. Last April 18, the
deafening roar of canons again assaulted her community in Barangay Licup
prompting her family to run for safety. She arrived along with thousands
more at the evacuation center with virtually nothing. As always, their
sustenance was now at the mercy of food rations from relief agencies. But
the expected relief goods never came.

Even as tons of food arrived at the port of Jolo since April 21 amidst the
rapid response from international organizations and relief groups to the
crisis, sadly it is taking ages to distribute them to the evacuees. Like
the evacuees caught in the armed conflict as collateral damage, the 4,420
sacks of rice from international relief assistance are moot captives in
the contest among political interests who want to use the rice as their
campaign tool in the coming election. This is double jeopardy to the
fifty thousand civilians, mostly women and children who are hungry and
thirsty. Their access to regular, timely and adequate relief assistance
spells life and death in the evacuation centers.

The Mindanao Peaceweavers call upon our leaders and politicians to set
aside their selfish political agenda and refrain from putting any pressure
and undue influence that disrupt the quick, steady and unhampered
distribution of relief goods. We call upon the military to recognize the
independence of relief agencies and social welfare groups in responding to
the humanitarian needs of the evacuees. We recommend the installation of
an efficient, transparent, unimpeded distribution system and enhance
coordination mechanisms between and among relief agencies with the
participation of civil society and Bangsamoro women leaders. We believe
that support of the Bangsamoro women will ensure speedy, transparent and
systematic relief distribution.

The humanitarian crisis is clearly an offshoot of a complex political
problem that has besieged not only Sulu but mainland Mindanao for
centuries. If government continues to ignore the root causes of the
problem by selectively citing legalese concepts like the rule of law in
its treatment of the likes of Ustadz Habier Malik, it will never be able
to touch the core issue of the conflict. No wonder the Office of the
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process is now addressing relief
operations instead of stepping up processes for dialogue with the MNLF and
heed the proposal of the OIC for a ceasefire.

We urge both government and the MNLF to open the channels for dialogue and
take immediate steps to avert an escalation of violence. We believe that
the genuine full implementation of the 1996 Peace Agreement will be
decisive in preventing moderate revolutionary leaders from joining
extremist elements and groups. Once we abrogate this
internationally-supported covenant by pursuing full military operations in
Sulu, we simply push our own people to the morass of global terrorism.
God forbid, the consequences are simply unimaginable.

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