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Expert Opinion

Can Mindanao’s new peace agreement help end displacement?

After seventeen years of negotiations, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) put a formal end to one of Asia’s longest running conflicts. The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), signed last Thursday, raises hope of a sustained peace in the southern island of Mindanao.

IDMC estimates that more than 3.5 million people have been displaced in Mindanao as a result of conflict and violence since 2000. The majority fled their homes as a result of fighting between the government and the MILF, but violence and insecurity have also been fuelled by the activities of other Muslim non-state armed groups as well as by feuds between powerful Moro clans often driven by political rivalries and land disputes.

The CAB creates the Bangsamoro, a new regional entity which will replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by 2016. It spells out new wealth and power sharing arrangements for the region, and puts in place interim governance structures.

The agreement, which also  outlines the steps the government and rebels will take to foster the peace and security needed to bring sustainable development, is also a major step forward for Mindanao’s IDPs. It will contribute to preventing new displacement, improve humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas and address the recovery needs of those who have been displaced in the past. In addition, it seeks to address past injustices and human rights violations suffered by the Moro people thanks to the creation of a Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC). The region’s IDPs will benefit from the TJRC, many of whom have regularly found themselves exposed to a range of human rights violations at the various stages of their displacement.  

3 steps that will help address the needs of Mindanao’s IDPs and contribute to the CAB’s success

Implementing the CAB will not be without challenges, but the agreement is an opportunity to better address internal displacement in the region and ensure sustained attention is paid to the needs of some of Mindanao’s poorest and most vulnerable people.  

The following steps are needed to help guarantee that Mindanao’s IDPs can claim their rights.    

Immediately adopt legislation to protect IDPs’ rights 

Congress should fast track the passage of the IDP bill recently approved by the Congress’ Human Rights Committee and which is a revised version of last year’s bill approved by Congress but vetoed by the President four months later. Adequate mechanisms need to be enshrined in Philippine law to ensure IDPs in Mindanao and elsewhere in the Philippines are better protected from the causes of displacement and receive the assistance they deserve.

The inclusion of provisions within the law aimed at preventing displacement is important given that conflict-displacement has been on the increase in Mindanao in recent years, with 327,000 people displaced in 2013, the highest number in the last four years.  

Ensure recovery and rehabilitation programs are adequately funded

In recent years, underfunding has seriously hindered early recovery and rehabilitation activities in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, leaving many IDPs and returnees without the assistance they need to rebuild their lives.

Decades of conflict and recurrent large-scale population displacements have severely disrupted economic, social and political activities in Mindanao as well as the delivery of social services such as education and health care. Most of the displacements have been short-term and localised, but they have often affected the same communities over and over again.

In Maguindanao, one of the provinces hardest-hit by conflict but also by recurrent flooding, three out of four households have been displaced twice or more between 2000 and 2010. Such families find themselves more vulnerable with each displacement event, reducing their ability to cope and ‘bounce back’; it’s little wonder this province ranked second poorest in Mindanao in 2012.

The Normalisation Trust Fund, established by the CAB, will enable donors to complement government funds so as to ensure programs that respond to the needs of the population are adequately funded. This is an opportunity to increase support for more sustained longer-term efforts and ensure a more effective transition from relief to recovery. 

Assess the needs of long-term IDPs

Community-based assessments planned under the CAB must include an effective profiling of all groups of IDPs, including those who have been unable over the years to bring a sustainable end to their displacement by returning back home, staying where they are or settling elsewhere in the country.

Important to note, however, is that despite many assumptions IDPs' needs and vulnerabilities often do not end after they return.  This was evidenced by a 2012 assessment which revealed that half a million people in Mindanao, mainly IDPs and returnees, were still in need of humanitarian and recovery assistance. This is due to their limited access to agricultural assets, education, health care services and water and sanitation facilities.

By ensuring that the assistance and protection needs of Mindanao’s IDPs are adequately addressed, including by gathering data disaggregated by sex, age, location and diversity so as to ensure the needs of vulnerable IDP groups don’t fall through the cracks, the government and its partners will not only address one of the key drivers of vulnerability and poverty in Mindanao, they would also increase the likelihood of this long-awaited peace agreement’s success. 

For more information, see IDMC’s page for the Philippines