Peace Group Urges Gov’t Forces to Ensure Civilian Protection
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In response to the ongoing armed conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in and around the Liguasan Marsh in North Cotabato and Maguindanao, the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), a peace-building non-government organization based in Mindanao today urged government troops as well as local government officials ‘to provide utmost priority’ to the humanitarian needs of the affected communities and to ensure civilian protection.’
Based on recent reports, approximately 5,136 families (23,465 individuals) were forced to flee from the municipalities of Pagalungan, Datu Montawal, Sultan sa Barongis, General SK Pendatun and Pikit. This figure is expected to rise as military operations intensify and the BIFF is anticipated to retaliate. Investigation is also being sought on the reported deaths of a 14-year old boy and a pregnant woman at the height of mortar shelling operations in Lower Idtig in Gen. Salipada K. Pendatun municipality on June 16, 2018 and the killing of an elderly and a 13-year boy during a military raid in Sitio Makantal, Olandang, Midsayap, North Cotabato on June 12, 2018.
IID executive director Gus Miclat said, “In the immediate, aside from ensuring the safety and security of civilians in the conduct of military operations by the government forces, we invoke the state’s responsibility to protect and fulfill the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) during evacuation until their safe and dignified return to their places of origin.”
Miclat added, “We are seriously alarmed and bothered by the possible extent of civilian casualties – most of whom are women and children – if this conflict will continue. Worse, this is happening amidst all big talks about a peace process addressing the roots of conflict in Mindanao? This has to stop. ”
He stressed, “A durable solution to address the immediate needs of the affected communities is required and we are challenging all concerned government and humanitarian agencies to prioritize this. For the security sectors, we urge them to immediately stop the airstrikes, indiscriminate firing and artillery shelling directed at civilian dwellings and public structures.”
“UPHOLD PRIMACY OF PEACE PROCESS “
IID then reiterated its position that a negotiated political settlement is essential in resolving the decades-old conflict in Mindanao, saying that a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) now being deliberated in Congress, if enacted according to its purpose and intent could pave the way for genuine and lasting peace in the Bangsamoro.
The BBL is the enabling law of the 2014 peace accord Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which seeks to establish a new Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
However, IID expressed fears for the ‘possible enactment of a watered-down BBL’ that will not fully realize the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people and other inhabitants of Mindanao for a just peace and their right to self-determination which may lead to further conflict in Mindanao.
The House of Representatives and Senate have already passed their respective versions of the BBL in separate sessions and a bicameral conference committee will need to reconcile both chambers’ versions of the bill starting July 9 before it can be signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte who certified the bill as urgent.
IID executive director Gus Miclat said, “A diluted BBL could result to more problems than provide solutions to the Bangsamoro question. If our lawmakers act as peace architects through the legislative process, they should know that they cannot build peace in Mindanao by having a substandard BBL. Granting the Bangsamoro greater and genuine autonomy to exercise its inherent right to self-determination through the BBL is a major step to fully realize the political promise and vision of the peace deal.”
Miclat explained, “We remain hopeful that when the bicameral conference committee starts to reconcile the two versions of the BBL next month, significant provisions of the BTC’s version will be restored. The point is simple: The status quo (ARMM) is already insufficient if not altogether defective to address the Bangsamoro problem. It is therefore unacceptable and illogical to enact a new law that is dramatically less than what is available.”
IID called on the bicameral committee to heed the knock of peace at history’s door and be the authors of real change, justice and genuine peace in the land. Miclat noted that already, renewed recent clashes in Mindanao featuring air strikes against alleged remnants of the Maute Group and symphatizers of ISIS-related militants have spawned thousands of displaced civilians and a climate of unease among residents.
“The glimmer of hope that a robust BBL could have provided has dimmed if the versions at the bicam remain the same”, Miclat said.