14 May 2024

The Philippines - Six years after conflict, progress and challenges for IDPs

The city of Marawi in the southern Philippines was the scene of a major urban conflict between May and October 2017 pitting government forces against non-state armed groups, including Abu Sayyaf, a local affiliate of the Islamic State group, and the Maute group, which controlled the city. Around 1,000 people lost their lives and 350,000 were internally displaced. The government has since put significant efforts into rebuilding Marawi and supporting IDPs’ pursuit of durable solutions. The process has not been without challenges, but it shows that the achievement of durable solutions entails long and complex procedures that require a whole-of-government approach that is multifaceted and sustained over time.

Marawi’s built environment was severely damaged in the conflict, impeding IDPs’ swift return. Soon after the army had retaken the city, the government established the inter-agency Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) to facilitate post-conflict recovery, repair and reconstruction. TFBM included sub-committees dedicated to housing, health and social welfare, business and livelihoods, and peace and order. The government also secured an emergency assistance loan and a series of grants from the Asian Development Bank, which provided immediate and flexible financing to scale-up programmes targeting those displaced.

These initiatives helped to significantly reduce the number of IDPs in the first year after the conflict. Data collection, however, was uncoordinated in 2017 and 2018, creating discrepancies from one area to the next and hindering understanding of displacement patterns and trends. The government and its humanitarian partners have since improved their monitoring by conducting assessments of IDPs’ needs and protection risks and producing monthly updates on the number of people living in transitory and permanent shelters. This improved coverage has provided insight into the differentiated impacts among population groups, which in turn has informed a better response.

National agencies, including the departments of public works and highways, trade and industry, agriculture and agrarian reform, as well as the national housing authority, played an active role in accelerating the recovery. At the local level, the government established a Special Committee on Marawi City Rehabilitation in 2019 to further speed up efforts, especially in terms of infrastructure and housing reconstruction. The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was also granted autonomy in the same year as part of a peace agreement intended to secure long-term stability.

These efforts were hindered by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, when lockdowns prevented IDPs from relocating or returning to Marawi, accessing aid or registering for government-led programmes. The pandemic also led to increased needs because people lost their livelihoods and some or all of their income. Despite concerted efforts to fight the spread of the virus, cases were reported in displacement sites, which often had water, sanitation and health issues.

As the pandemic’s impacts receded, efforts to bring IDPs’ plight to a sustainable end were reinvigorated. Government agencies, the United Nations and international and national non-governmental organisations increased their support, including to reinforce the healthcare system. IDPs also established their own cooperatives and livelihood programmes, taking an active part in pursuing solutions.

Congress passed a law in April 2022 to compensate those affected by the conflict for the loss of life and property incurred. The process has continued despite financial constraints, and by mid-2023 the local government had begun offering free legal aid to expedite the processing of applications. The national government also put forward its national development plan for 2023 to 2028, which recognises the complexity of finding long-term solutions to displacement and reaffirms its commitment to IDPs’ and the city’s recovery. The plan stresses the importance of long-term stability and disaster risk reduction efforts, a welcome step towards preventing future displacement.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity has also implemented a series of initiatives and programmes to address the root causes of the conflict, including by alleviating poverty and increasing access to justice. Conscious of the challenges IDPs continue to face, the government issued an order on 30 December 2023 to speed up bureaucratic procedures and facilitate recovery and durable solutions for the estimated 80,000 people still living in displacement.

While displacement was still unresolved for many, the efforts made at all levels of government to address IDPs’ needs and resolve their situation should be seen as a remarkable example of government ownership and responsibility to its displaced citizens. If sustained, these initiatives will help resolve the largest conflict displacement situation in the Philippines moving forward.

For references and additional information, please see the full report.