We express grave concern on the recent spate of conflict in Maguindanao, one of five provinces under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which has forced thousands of villagers to flee their homes.
Both sides of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government have accused each other of violating a fragile truce signed in 2001. Today, thousands of people are again cramped in evacuation centers, joining the increasing number of internally displaced persons in Mindanao. Some lost their family members to the war, while most are forced to leave home.
On April 28, 2009 four innocent Muslim civilians were reportedly found dead in Shariff Aguak with their heads beheaded and bodies mutilated by gun shots and bladed weapons. Houses have also been burned.
This turn of events could further erode the community initiatives for the peaceful resolution of conflict and the development gains in Mindanao.
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), a Geneva-based leading international body monitoring conflict-induced internal displacement, the Philippines ranked first in the number of IDPs worldwide by registering 600,000 evacuees in 2008. This figure is higher than that of Sudan (550,000) — a country similarly long beset by internal armed conflict.
The 600,000 IDPs in Mindanao topped that of Kenya (500,000), Democratic Republic of Congo (at least 400,000), Iraq (360,000), Pakistan (over 310,000), Somalia (300,000), Colombia (270,000), Sri Lanka (230,000) and India (over 220,000).
We appeal for the immediate suspension of military operations in the communities in Mindanao. The SOMO is a confidence building measure to allow existing ceasefire mechanisms to work and enable communities to return to their homes.
We also appeal to the leadership of both the government and the MILF to demonstrate commitment to peace by creating an atmosphere open for dialogues and negotiations.
We call on the support of the international community to avert the humanitarian crisis in Mindanao and support the peoples call for peace. We believe that the foundation of peace and development rests on respect and recognition of the rights of the people to live humanely, pursue opportunities and be able to genuinely participate in governance.
Mindanao has suffered more than enough. The decades old war had turned children into orphans, mothers into widows and had effectively put them in the margins. It has generated thousands of internally displaced persons who have no other option but to live their lives in fear and unable to pursue their dreams for a better life.
In 2008, after the failed signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), conflict interrupted and displaced the lives of an estimated 600,000 people in Mindanao. Before the upsurge in fighting, it was estimated that the conflict had displaced more than two million people since 2000.
Their voices are drowned by the sound of bombs and guns.
Public resources allocated for bullets and bombs could be better spent for education, health and basic services in Mindanao and in laying the ground for social and physical development infrastructure.
We continue to take on the responsibility to build partnerships with communities and peoples in Mindanao and in Southeast Asia. We believe that peace dialogues can never take place in an atmosphere of mistrust and hostility.
We firmly call on government and the MILF to listen to the plea of Mindanawans to stop the bloodshed in Mindanao and allow genuine peace to reign in the island. We reiterate our call to the international community to avert the humanitarian crisis in Mindanao and help its people to rebuild and regain control over their lives . Your solidarity in this time of crisis is highly needed to ensure that the peoples of Mindanao would have their stake in the peace and development process.