From May 23, 2017, the Islamic City of Marawi, the capital of the predominantly Muslim Lanao del Sur province in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, in the Philippines, has been the epicentre of violence.
On that day, the Philippine Army and a local radical Islamist entity, allegedly affiliated to ISIL, the Maute Group, began a battle in the city. This action soon became a siege and, as of June, official data report that over 400,000 people were internally displaced to neighbouring provinces.
Local Franciscans have been some of the first to bring humanitarian assistance to the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) from Marawi in the form of food, medical assistance, and livelihood support. Franciscans also organised psycho-social interventions (similar to group counselling meetings) to help IDPs deal with their trauma.
Norly Sara Paingco, 24, was present at one of these meetings. Until May 23 she was a student in the city of Marawi. On that day, she had to leave her city, her house, and her school. She now lives in an evacuation center in Baloi, in the Lanao del Norte province, some 30 km north of Marawi city.
“Why are we being evicted from our houses? Why are we considered terrorists?” she asks in tears. “Now I cannot study. My future is destroyed.”
Since May the crisis in Marawi has intensified and the martial law, initially proclaimed for the city of Marawi only, was extended to the whole island of Mindanao on July 22.
The living conditions of IDPs in the country is increasingly worrying and Sen. Leila de Lima, former chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, requested the Duterte administration to formally invite the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, to look into the growing number of citizens displaced by this crisis. As reported by The Philippine Star, “The senator said the government, as the ‘legal protector of Filipinos who are unable to protect themselves,’ has the duty to pursue an impartial investigation through an independent commission of inquiry to be conducted by the UN special rapporteur.”
Budi Tjahjono, Franciscans International’s Asia-Pacific Coordinator, was recently in in Iligan City—40 km from Marawi—to attend a meeting with the JPIC of Franciscans in Mindanao, titled “Franciscans, ONE with Marawi.” In the context of this meeting, that aimed to consolidate Franciscan responses to the crisis, Mr Tjahjono also visited one of the evacuation centres where local Franciscans are engaged in humanitarian assistance and advocacy. His assessment of the situation is similar to the one provided by Sen. De Lima. He said, “It is very important to address immediately the IDPs situation though the lenses of the UN guiding principles on internal displacement.” And he further added that “the Philippines should invite the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs to visit Marawi and the region. And the Government should also reconsider their position in regard to Bill 1142 on IDPs rights.”