Disasters brought on by typhoons, floods and earthquakes displace millions of people across the Philippines each year, leaving hundreds of thousands in prolonged or protracted displacement situations. In the impoverished southern island group of Mindanao, decades of multiple internal armed conflicts, generalised and community-based violence, and human rights violations continue to drive new and ongoing displacement. Human rights violations and displacement are also caused by development schemes, including infrastructure, energy, and waste and watershed management projects.
Frequent and prolonged displacement in the Philippines occurs in the context of disasters brought on by natural hazard events, conflict in the southern island group of Mindanao, and development projects, which have often affected the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples. The vulnerability of historically marginalised minority communities, including indigenous groups and people living in informal settlements, means that they tend to face the greatest risk and the worst impacts in all displacement contexts. Poverty coupled with rapid urbanisation, the growth of unplanned settlements and ineffective or unenforced building codes and land zoning regulations are major drivers of risk, as many settlements are located in hazard-prone coastal areas. Disaster risk and conflict risk are compounded by weak governance and a lack of accountability. The country is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and adverse effects are already being reported.
Due to its geographical location along the Pacific “typhoon belt” and “ring of fire”, the archipelagic country of the Philippines is highly exposed to recurrent hydro-meteorological and geophysical hazards, including tropical storms and typhoons, floods, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and droughts. On average, the country experiences 20 tropical storms each year, of which an average of five are destructive, with most activity in the months of June to September. Island coastlines are vulnerable to tsunamis and sea surges. Floods also occur during the rainy season from June to November and during the southwest monsoon from November to April.
Between 2008 and 2017, an annual average of 3.7 million disaster-induced displacements were recorded, 84 per cent of which were brought on by typhoons and the storm surges, floods and strong winds that usually accompany them. The largest single displacement event in recent years was caused by the category 5 Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as “Yolanda”) in November 2013, which IDMC estimated displaced more than four million people from their homes.
The southern Philippines has a long history of multi-faceted internal conflict, mostly in the remote islands of central Mindanao, involving armed Muslim separatists, communists and clan militias as well as criminal groups and political elites.
The largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had waged an armed rebellion for over 40 years until 2014, although in the latter stages of its insurgency it pursued a more political than violent approach to press home its demands. Throughout, the MILF had been demanding an autonomous Islamic state for the Moro people, an indigenous Philippine group that converted to Islam several centuries ago.
After numerous failed attempts, a peace agreement was finally signed in 2014 between the government and the MILF, ending the conflict by granting greater political autonomy in exchange for an end to hostilities. Implementation of the agreement has been slow, however, and violence has continued as other insurgent groups continue to fight for full independence.
Other groups linked to the Moro insurgency that were formed more recently have become more active, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the smaller but more extreme Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Clashes between these groups and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have displaced thousands of people. The AFP declared an all-out offensive against the BIFF in February 2015, and multiple military operations were launched against the ASG over the course of 2016 in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
In 2017, the most significant displacement event of the year was the battle for Marawi city that began in May between the AFP and the Maute group, also known as the Islamic State of Lanao, which is allegedly supported by ASG and BIFF elements. More than 350,000 people were displaced in the city and surrounding region. The conflict officially ended in October, but tens of thousands of people are still displaced and martial law remains in place, giving the military widespread powers including the ability to carry out arrests without warrants and set up roadblocks and checkpoints.
Multiple displacements due to disaster, armed internal conflict and generalised violence have become commonplace in some areas of the Philippines. This displacement involves complex movement patterns over time as IDPs continue to seek the best options to meet their evolving needs. The contexts vary greatly, but in many situations IDPs first move to evacuation centres or take refuge with host families, frequently travelling between their former homes and displacement shelters as they start to rebuild and recover their livelihoods. At the same time, some may leave the affected areas to find refuge or seek access to basic services and livelihoods in other regions, as seen after Typhoon Haiyan.
IDPs who find themselves in prolonged displacement and unable to return are often relocated into transitional shelters to meet their medium-term shelter needs. This was the case for around 200,000 people after Typhoon Haiyan, whose homes were located in areas designated by authorities as unsafe “no dwelling zones”.
The major challenges commonly facing IDPs, particularly those displaced over extended periods of time, include securing access to safe, durable housing and to basic services such as education for their displaced children, and generating income despite the lack of livelihood opportunities near their new homes.
This was clearly demonstrated two years on from Typhoon Haiyan, when thousands of displaced people were still in transitional shelters where conditions were sometimes sub-standard in terms of construction, access to basic services, protection and safety.
The same applies to conflict-induced displacement situations, where obstacles have included government restrictions on return to areas it considers unsafe, the exclusion of many IDPs from permanent housing assistance, and limited alternative settlement options. Relocation to transitional sites for IDPs has been criticised for failing to adhere to international standards and being coercive. Groups that have particularly been impacted by forced and inadequate relocation include ethnic minorities such as the Badjao people in ARMM and the Lumad people in Mindanao.
These issues have been discussed in the context of a bill to protect the rights of IDPs: the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Act (RIDPA). This bill has been debated for over a decade and is currently pending passage in the Senate. If passed, it would constitute a landmark national law based on international standards and an important basis for action.
In Asia, the Philippines is one of the most reliable countries for data on disaster- and conflict-induced displacement. IDMC’s primary source of data is the government’s Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Centre (DROMIC), a division of the Disaster Response Management Bureau (DRMB) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). In addition to regularly publishing situation reports that include overall IDP figures linked to disasters and conflict, DROMIC disaggregates this information by geography, cumulative flows and time-stamped stock. For larger or more complicated events, DROMIC issues daily reports with situation updates. Given the numerous islands and regions in the country, DROMIC works with its field offices to monitor and collect information.
While data from DROMIC is highly reliable and provides national coverage through its monitoring process, IDMC has also found disaster- and conflict-induced displacement cases that have not been reported by the government. This can be attributed to the scale of certain disasters and conflicts, where smaller events may not have been reported on by DROMIC. As a result, IDMC not only monitors media reports, but also relies on information from organisations and entities such as OCHA and the Protection Cluster to gain a better understanding of the overall situation in the Philippines. This is particularly the case for conflicts, especially in the southern Mindanao region where IDMC also uses IDP data from Protection Cluster reports. These provide a more detailed picture of conflict-induced displacement broken down by types of conflict, such as communal tensions, clan feuds, land disputes, and armed attacks by separatists.
Where possible, both DROMIC and the Protection Cluster also report on specific returns and/or the end of a displacement.
|Displacement type||Return (Flow)||New Displacement (Flow)||IDPs (Stock)|
|Geographical disaggregation||Admin 2 or more||Admin 2 or more||Admin 2 or more|
|Geographical coverage||Partial coverage||Partial coverage||Partial coverage|
|Frequency of reporting||More than once a month||More than once a month||More than once a month|
|Disaggregation on sex||No||No||No|
|Disaggregation on age||No||No||No|
|Data triangulation||Good triangulation||Good triangulation||Good triangulation|
|Data on settlement elsewhere||Partial||No||No|
|Data on returns||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Data on local integration||No||No||No|
|Data on deaths||No||No||No|
|Data on births||No||No||No|
IDMC’s estimate is based on reports issued by the government's Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Center (DROMIC) and the Global Protection Cluster in the Philippines, which provide not only current and cumulative figures on displacement, but also returns, where available. The majority of those displaced by conflict came from the Mindanao regions. These figures also include displacement caused by criminal violence and extrajudicial killings.