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PHILIPPINES: Starvation and hunger threaten hundreds of displaced villagers following intense fighting in Maguindanao, Mindanao

Hundreds of villagers in Barangay Ahan, Guindulungan, Maguindanao are facing threats of starvation and hunger after they were unable to harvest their crops when fighting between soldiers and bandits broke out in early July this year. Out of desperation, the villagers also refused to leave their homes and farms despite the sporadic air strikes and mortar shelling, for they feared that should they leave, they would have no available means to provide for their livelihoods.

HUNGER ALERT HUNGER ALERT HUNGER ALERT HUNGER ALERT HUNGER

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

26 August 2005
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HA-19-2005: PHILIPPINES: Starvation and hunger threaten hundreds of displaced villagers following intense fighting in Maguindanao, Mindanao

PHILIPPINES: Hunger; right to food; massive displacement
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the Mindanao People's Caucus (MPC), a coalition of human rights groups in Mindanao, regarding the threat of starvation and hunger to hundreds of villagers displaced by renewed fighting between soldiers and bandits in Guindulungan, Maguindanao province, Mindanao.

The villagers were not able to harvest their crops, which is their primary source of food and livelihood, when the fighting broke out in July. In a desperate move to continue farming in order to have food to eat, it was reported that some of the villagers took the risk not to vacate their homes and farmlands. The meager relief assistance and poor condition of the evacuation centers discouraged the victims to evacuate.

We request your immediate intervention to pressure the Philippine government to take immediate steps to prevent the possible starvation and hunger of the affected villagers. Furthermore, should there be efforts to evacuate the victims from their villages and farms to safety, adequate food and relief assistance must be afforded to them.

Urgent Appeals Desk -- Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFORMATION:

Victims: Jose Acmad, chairman of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) and hundreds of affected villagers
Location: Barangay Ahan, Guindulungan, Maguindanao province
Date: current, beginning in early July 2005

Hundreds of villagers in Barangay Ahan, Guindulungan, Maguindanao are facing threats of starvation and hunger after they were unable to harvest their crops when fighting between soldiers and bandits broke out in early July this year. Out of desperation, the villagers also refused to leave their homes and farms despite the sporadic air strikes and mortar shelling, for they feared that should they leave, they would have no available means to provide for their livelihoods.

The villagers in Barangay Ahan depend on their farm crops for their food and livelihoods. When the military operations started in early July, the villagers were supposed to harvest about 196 hectares of corn, rice and sesame seed crops, however were unable to do so because of the fighting and violence in the area. Failure to harvest their crops means the villagers could potentially face at least three months of hunger. Thus, while the villagers attempt to harvest amidst the violence, many are left with little food for their consumption.

The villagers do have the option to move to designated evacuation centers as the fighting and random air strikes continue, however many have refused to move because of the meager relief assistance victims are receiving from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the poor conditions that await evacuees at the centers. This situation has greatly discouraged the victims to flee as they will continue to struggle for food at these evacuation centers.

Victim Jose Acmad, a peace advocate and Chairman of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC), has joined hundreds of villagers who refused to leave their homes and farmlands on August 18, 2005. It is unfortunate that these victims must take such high risks as a result of the poor conditions at the evacuation centers, but the potential for sufficient food is much better in the village. Acmad said, "At the evacuation centers, we watch our children get sick from hunger while there are so many crops waiting to be harvested in our own communities".

Furthermore, the evacuation was brought on very suddenly and the villagers were not given enough time to prepare for the move. Of the villagers who were evacuated, those who wished to return to their farms and harvest crops for food were refused security and protection.

Reports from Bantay Ceasefire, a group of human rights organizations monitoring the situation, disclosed that the toll on the civilians who remain in the village is mounting - children are getting sick, crops are damaged and there is massive displacement. It was also reported that the civilians' movement has been restricted in the area.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

This is yet another instance of displaced villagers suffering a desperate situation when fighting is renewed in the Mindanao islands. In February 2003, hundreds of villagers in Pikit and its neighboring areas in North Cotabato province were also displaced and caught in cross fire. Some died in the evacuation centers due to sickness, congestion and lack of food.

In February 2005, hundreds of displaced persons in Jolo, Sulu experienced a similar situation (please see FA-11-2005 for further details). Even though the Philippine government has been acting on the evacuees' plight in event of massive displacement, the repeated experiences of the evacuees suggests that concerned government agencies are not well prepared.

Most of the displaced villagers in Mindanao have been trying to survive and live their normal life despite the repeated and frequent displacement due to intense fighting in the area. However, previous actions taken by the government was not enough to ensure the evacuees' food situation and medical assistance in such an event. The government has yet to take an effective step to respond to the evacuees' needs.


SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please send a letter to Ms. Zorahayda T. Taha, regional director of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD XII) in Koronadal City, Mindanao, Philippines, asking her office to take appropriate action to afford sustainable food and relief assistance to the affected villagers, in the villages and the evacuation centers. Also ask her to initiate a dialogue with the victims, together with other relevant government agencies, to discuss their concerns and take steps to evacuate them to safety without delay. A sample letter follows.

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Dear __________,

Re: PHILIPPINES: Threat of starvation and hunger to hundreds of displaced villagers in Maguindanao, Mindanao following an intense fighting

Victims: Jose Acmad, chairman of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) and hundreds of affected villagers
Location: Barangay Ahan, Guindulungan, Maguindanao province
Date: current, beginning in early July 2005

I am writing to express my deep concern regarding the reported threat of starvation and hunger to hundreds of villagers in Barangay Ahan, Guindulungan, Maguindanao. I have learned that the villagers are most likely to starve after they were not able to harvest their farm crops, which is their only source of food and livelihood, when the fighting between government soldiers and bandits began in early July this year.

I was saddened to learn that the villagers have taken the risk of staying in their houses and farmlands in an effort to continue farming for food, despite ongoing fighting and sporadic air strikes in the area. While the villagers do have the option to flee to evacuation centers, many have refused on account of the poor conditions there. The villagers’ refusal to move to the evacuation centers was reportedly due to the meager food and relief assistance being provided at the centers.

It was also reported that the villagers who wanted to go back to their respective farms to get some food for their consumption were even refused security escorts by soldiers. It is understood that villagers had no easy access to their own farms due to the reported restrictions on their movement. Because of this, most of the farmers were not able to harvest their crops and instead have had to rely on rations or relief assistance.

I am aware that this is yet another instance of displaced persons experiencing a desperate situation as a result of fighting in Mindanao. In February 2003, hundreds of displaced villagers in the nearby municipalities of Pikit and Pagalungan, all in North Cotabato, also experienced a similar situation. The problems the evacuees reportedly faced at the evacuation centers included meager relief and medical assistance, child illnesses and deaths, and shortage of food among others.

Although the Philippine government, in particular the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), has taken action to afford assistance to evacuees on previous cases, the repeated problems and concerns of displaced persons and evacuees suggests the government is not well prepared to immediately respond to the evacuees' needs.

I request your immediate action to ensure that appropriate assistance and sufficient food are afforded to the affected villagers. Please also initiate a dialogue with the victims, together with other relevant government agencies, to discuss their concerns and take steps to evacuate them to safety without delay. Any action taken on this case must be in close coordination with the people concerned.

I trust that you will take action on this matter.



Sincerely,


__________________

PLEASE SEND A LETTER TO:

1. Ms. Zorahayda T. Taha
Regional Director
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD XII)
Koronadal Gymnasium
Koronadal City
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 83 228 3180 / +63 83 228 3607

2. Datu Andal S. Ampatuan
Governor
Provincial Capitol
9605 Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 64 489 0905 / +63 64 489 0998
Fax: +63 64 489 0997

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Ms. Rosalinda Tolosa
Regional Director
Commission on Human Rights (CHR XII)
Sy Compound, Leon Lldio Street
Barangay Lagao
9500 General Santos City
PHILIPPINES
Tel/Fax: +63 83 553 8887
Cotabato City extension Office
Tel: +63 64 482 0384 / +63 64 421 6307

2. Dr. Nicolas Alipui
Resident Representative
United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF)
31/F Yuchengco Tower, RCBC Plaza
Ayala Ave. cor. Sen. Gil J. Puyat Ave.
Makati City, Metro Manila
PHILIPPINES
Telephone: +63 2901 0173
Fax: +63 2901 0195
Email: manila@unicef.org  

3. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Attn: Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066, C/o OHCHR
CH-1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel.: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 917 9010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch

4. Mr. Anthony Banbury
Regional Director
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor
Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan
Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2655 4413
Email: Bkk.unescap@un.org

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Desk -- Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

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