The volume of hostilities and violent skirmishes resulting to several deaths and forced displacement of scores of families in some parts of the BARMM and the Other Bangsamoro Communities (OBC) is growing to a proportion where communities start to experience fear, anxiety, apprehension, distress and helplessness. The saying, “when elephants fight, the grasses get crumpled” is proven true. It is indeed true that all wars are wars against civilians. The civilians, especially the elderly, PWDs, children and mothers, are always the hardest hit and the ones who suffer most.
In the past few months, thousands of civilians (20,485 people, based on MSSD situational report as of March 24, 2023) are forced to flee their homes. In the military operation against the ISIS, several houses were hit and destroyed by mortars and howitzers. The recent skirmishes between some members of the BIAF resulted in the burning of 16 houses and forced displacement of civilians. The fear engulfs the civilian population even in the thought of an imminent armed attacks and the sight of moving armed groups.
The COs and other stakeholders are alarmed by these hostilities that deprived communities their right to live in peace, especially in this holy month of Ramadhan. Social media and affected residents share posts on almost daily cases of armed skirmishes between armed groups, ambushes, attacks on families, military operations and other forms of violent incidents that forcibly displaced communities.
Conflicts that is taking place now in the BM after the peace agreement have a different pattern from the previous conflicts. The previous conflict is between the MILF and the GPH. The current conflicts are more horizontal, partlybetween the ISIS AFP, between and among armed groups and between some mebers of the BIAF. Unresolved political relationship between the BARMM and some LGUs contribute to the unrest.
Apparently, vying for power, access to economic resources and land disputes and unresolved personal and political grudges, are the main causes of the conflicts, among others.
The number of firearms and other combat hardwares in the hands of armed groups, including the AFP, revolutionary organizations, jihadists and political clans, can be a powder keg that can explode when the situation gets out of hand. As the Barangay elections are approaching and the coming regional elections in less than 2 years, the present violent scenarios when unabated, can turn into a high-level battle among armed groups not excluding the AFP.
Indeed, the “war is not yet over until it is over”.
As this violence takes shape, the people are starting to ask what the security sector as well as the BARMM authorities and local government units and the peace mechanisms on the ground are doing to arrest the growing number of hostilities. Killings seem to happen with impunity. “The victims are arrested but the perpetrators are scot-free”.
The citizens have the right to know from the authorities why this violence are happening and what are the level of efforts they are undertaking, because they too, as stakeholders, would like to contribute in the efforts towards cessation of hostilities.
These incidents call for immediate actions before the situation gets out of hand and more deaths, forced displacement and other casualties will happen. My dear CSO colleagues, indeed the war is not yet over and so do our tasks. We cannot be complacent. We need concerted efforts to engage in dialogues with both civilian and military authorities and other concerned groups and agencies to end the hostilities. Our development initiatives will definitely be negated by the continuing hostilities that will displace communities and abandon their source of living.
The fears and apprehensions can drive away potential private investments in the region.
Escalation of these hostilities will eventually undermine the initial gains of the hard-earned peace.
ANENT THE ABOVE, WE THE CSOS, THE IDPS AND CONCERNED INDIVIDUALS HAD CONSENSUALLY AGREED TO ADD OUR CONCERTED VOICES TO THE CALL FOR THE IMMEDIATE CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES IN THE AFFECTED AREAS OF THE BARM AND OBC, TO WIT:
1. We call upon the security sector to aggressively enforce and exert extra efforts at addressing the current hostilities without compromising the ceasefire agreement and the coordination protocol;
2. For the security sector to continuously heighten their campaign against possession of illegal firearms and disbanding of private armed groups even as the decommissioning of the MILF and their firearms is being implemented;
3. The AFP to strictly observe the protocol on HRL and IL by ensuring that the civilians and their properties and productive assets are not made as “collateral damage”;
4. Call for the peace mechanisms on the ground to actively get involved in the campaign for cessation of hostilities;
5. We call for the immediate and active involvement of the Joint Peace and Securit Team (JPST) in the de-escalation of the violence and proactively assist civilians especially those who are trapped or injured and need immediate medical attention;
6. For the MILF leadership to use its persuasive influence and authoritative control over their ground forces to disengage in any forms of violence and any uncalled-for activities against civilians and their properties and livelihoods;
7. For LGUs to actively involved in the campaign against any forms of violence and maintain its impartiality in finding lasting solutions;
8.For the armed groups to use dialogues and non-violent means to resolving conflicts and to redress their problems;
9. For the armed groups to consider the safety of the civilians at all times and to refrain from military actions against state security forces that will jeopardize the safety and security of the civilians;
10. Call for CSOs to actively monitor and engage in Early Warning and Early Response (EWER)
activity as pro-active measures;
11. Call to the BARMM to fast rack development in the BARMM as an important antidote to violence;
12. For agencies like BHRC and MPOS to actively implement their mandates in finding solutions to end the hostilities;
13. Appeal to the Philippine government and the MILF to swiftly implement the normalization aspect of the peace agreement to allow the people to live in peace and prevent the recurrence of violence.
Let this call be the voice of the people to end these hostilities and the voluntary, peaceful, dignified and safe return of affected families without fear and worries, in the remaining days of Ramadan and beyond.
Wabillahi Taufiq Wal Hidayah. (April 19, 2023, posted originally at the CBCS Advocacy Social Media)