Saturday, February 19, 2011

Philippines: Calls for greater respect for civilians amid peace talks

Source: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

As peace efforts continue apace, the ICRC has appealed for greater respect for civilians. This is an update on ICRC activities in the Philippines.

Humanitarian situationThe harm caused to civilians by the conflict with the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines remains a serious concern for the ICRC. Over the years and across the country, cycles of violence linked with insurgency have resulted in casualties, displacement and pervasive fear.

"The resumption of peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines offers an opportunity to strengthen respect for the civilian population in a country that has struggled with armed violence for more than 40 years," said Jean-Daniel Tauxe, head of the ICRC delegation in Manila. "Legal instruments to protect civilians are already in place [1]. However, parties to the internal armed conflict need to comply with them and hold to account those who do not."

In Central Mindanao, as peace efforts continue with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, some progress has been achieved in implementing the peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front. In the meantime, many communities still live in fear as internal clan disputes (known as "ridos") continue to cause displacement and loss of life. Serious security concerns, including the destruction of property and kidnapping for ransom, are continuing.

"We hope that various initiatives involving the government and armed groups will result in stability and a chance to lead normal lives for thousands of people," said Mr Tauxe.

The ICRC's ability to enter conflict areas enables it to maintain dialogue with the parties to the conflict and with the population in general, which is a key part of its efforts to improve the situation of civilians. The organization also serves as a neutral intermediary in handovers of captured military and police personnel to their families.

ICRC responseIn the Visayas region, the scene of armed clashes between government forces and the New People's Army, the ICRC has improved access to water for more than 6,000 people in Negros and Samar.

In coordination with the Philippine Red Cross, the ICRC has distributed half-month food rations to almost 54,000 people in flood-stricken areas in Northern Samar, particularly in communities already affected by armed violence.

The ICRC continues to monitor the conflict between the New People's Army and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the eastern part of Mindanao, and plans to extend its aid to communities that have been especially hard hit economically.

On several occasions the ICRC has provided assistance for families displaced by ridos – most recently in Kabacan, North Cotabato, where it distributed food and other items to over 3,000 people.

In Central Mindanao, rice and vegetable seed and farm tools distributed last year enabled more than 3,800 families to resume farming and decrease their dependence on loans. Reduced economic pressure gives people a better chance to make a fresh start.

While Sulu archipelago remains off-limits to the ICRC owing to the security situation, the organization is still able to respond to the needs of the people there through local partners. A water project in Indanan, for example, carried through by local organizations with ICRC support, is currently providing several thousand people with safe drinking water. In mid-February, the local chapter of the Philippine Red Cross started distributing food and other basic necessities with support from the ICRC to 12,000 residents of flooded areas in Sulu.

Clean water and other basic necessitiesIn early February, the ICRC made available dozens of kuligligs (two-wheeled tractors) to help formerly displaced farmers cultivate their lands. The machines, which were given to farmers' cooperatives, were distributed in cooperation with the Department of Social Welfare and Development – Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (DSWD-ARMM) and with the Department of Agriculture. Similar initiatives are planned for the rest of the year. In addition, fingerlings were released in the marshlands to compensate for over-fishing that has occurred over the past two years owing to population displacement.

A water-network extension project has been launched in Pikit, North Cotabato, with the aim of bringing drinking water to 11,000 people. This is the most ambitious water project the ICRC has ever undertaken in the Philippines.

In order to support the delivery of health care, the ICRC continues to provide medicines and surgical items for 14 hospitals throughout Mindanao, and to pay for the treatment of needy individuals. It also provides support for physical rehabilitation and prosthetic services through the Jubilee Center in Davao City, where a gait training area was constructed recently.

Adapting humanitarian response to new challengesThe ICRC has begun focusing on the issue of migration, a growing worldwide phenomenon involving numerous challenges for humanitarian workers. In the first action it has taken for migrants, the ICRC helped renovate the Zamboanga migration centre by improving access to water and sanitation, rebuilding the kitchen and providing hygiene kits.

Helping to maintain people's dignity in places of detentionIn 2010, the ICRC visited over 72,000 inmates, including those detained in connection with armed violence, to monitor the conditions in which they were being held and the treatment they received. It also monitored the individual cases of 691 inmates. Together with the Philippine Red Cross, it made arrangements for 295 inmates held far from their homes to receive visits from family members.

An initiative launched in 2007 to address the causes of jail overcrowding and relieve its impact on inmates is making progress. After a working group on the criminal justice process focused on improving conditions at Manila City Jail, a new working group was formed to address the causes of jail congestion in Tacloban.

After a new manual was issued by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology setting out national standards for living conditions in jails, about 25,000 inmates benefited from improvements. Meanwhile, the use of solar panels to provide electricity for kitchens and other jail facilities has helped reduce maintenance costs and adverse effects on the environment. Finally, a National Tuberculosis Programme is now benefiting over 30,000 inmates in seven jails and prisons, thanks to active facilitation done in the frame of the CFA in collaboration with the Department of Health and other national agencies.

Note 1. CARHRIHL and R.A. 9851