31 December 2013 |

Philippines: Internal displacement in brief

As of December 2013


Armed conflict between the government and non-state armed groups continued to cause internal displacement in the Philippines in 2013, as did clan-related violence. Around 327,000 people fled their homes, of whom at least 116,000 were still displaced at the end of the year. Almost all of the displacement took place in Mindanao, the country’s poorest region, where conflict and violence rooted in under-development, poor governance and the marginalisation of Muslim and indigenous communities has displaced at least 3.5 million people since 2000.

More than a third of those displaced in 2013 fled within Zamboanga city, where heavy fighting between the government and a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) destroyed more than 10,000 homes and displaced around 120,000 people in September. Fighting between the government and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) breakaway group, also caused displacement, as did clashes with the communist New People’s Army (NPA).

Many IDPs returned home in the weeks following their flight, but in Zamboanga around 63,000 were unable to do so because their homes had either been destroyed or were in parts of city declared “no return areas” prone to disaster. The majority of the displaced sought refuge with host families, where they were thought to be worse off than those in camps in terms of access to food and basic services. In the absence of a profiling exercise, the nature and extent of their needs remained unclear.

Recurrent disasters brought on by natural hazards caused much more displacement than conflict and violence in 2013. Typhoon Haiyan devastated the western and central areas of Visayas region in November, displacing over 4 million people. That said, displacement caused by conflict, tends to affect the same deprived communities repeatedly, gradually undermining their resilience and pushing them further into poverty.

Some IDPs displaced by conflict were also affected by disasters, disrupting their recovery or forcing them into secondary displacement. Flooding in central and western Mindanao in August made IDPs’ already precarious living conditions worse, particularly in the area’s poorly equipped camps and makeshift shelters. Some communities in eastern Mindanao affected by typhoon Bopha in December 2012 were already suffering increasing social and economic vulnerabilities as a result of conflict and previous displacement when the storm hit. Their remote location also hindered their access to humanitarian assistance.

IDPs’ needs often continue after their return. Recent assessments in conflict-affected areas of central Mindanao highlighted the fragile food security situation of the general population and found that both IDPs and returnees were worse off still. Many lacked access to water, sanitation, agricultural assets, education and health care. In Zamboanga, local authorities plan to help around 33,000 IDPs to return or settle elsewhere over the next six to 18 months. They have encouraged some who had settled in the city after migrating from other areas of Mindanao over the past decade to move to new sites nearby or return to their original provinces. Many opposed the plan, preferring to go back to their former homes in the city.

The government and the MILF, the country’s main rebel group, make good progress towards to finalising the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2013, following its signing in October 2012. On 27 March 2014, the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamaro (CAB) was signed in Manila, opening the way for much-needed social and political reforms and for an increase of international funding towards recovery and rehabilitation programmes, including for IDPs. Meanwhile, a 1996 peace deal between the government and the MNLF has still not been properly implemented.

The government and its international partners have made significant efforts in recent years to address the immediate needs of people displaced by conflict and violence, but funding shortfalls have often impeded early recovery and rehabilitation initiatives. In 2013, the UN adopted a convergence strategy for Mindanao. By establishing a single integrated framework to strengthen the government’s capacity to address the humanitarian, security and development needs of IDPs and other communities affected by conflict, it aims to improve community resilience and facilitate long-term solutions.

Congress adopted legislation on internal displacement in February that recognised the right of all IDPs to protection and assistance, whether displaced by conflict, disasters or development projects. In May, however, President Benigno Aquino vetoed the law, arguing that some provisions were unconstitutional. A revised bill was tabled towards the end of the year.