"They think we no longer exist because we are not seen on TV any more. But we're still here," Linog Macalig, a Maranao farmer, said from the town of Piagapo in the province of Lanao del Sur.
"We have appealed to the government but nobody seems to be listening to us. There is no relief assistance. It was only temporary. What can we do?"
That is a common question being asked by IDPs on the island, which has witnessed an upsurge in fighting between government forces and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since 10 August.
Clashes between government forces and the 12,000-strong MILF followed the Supreme Court decision to overturn a government proposal to establish a Muslim sub-state or homeland in Mindanao, including control over 700 towns and villages.
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Of the more than 300,000 displaced, some 76,000 are still in evacuation centres, mainly schools, the National Disaster Coordination Council (NDCC), the chief government coordinating body for disaster and rehabilitation operations, said.
Over 160 people have been killed and scores more injured in the fighting, the NDCC reported.
According to a fact-finding mission undertaken by 52 NGOs, both the military and MILF were to blame for the poor conditions and human rights violations experienced by IDPs.
In an 86-page report, Unravelling Stories of Human Rights Violations in Lanao Sur, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato and Maguidanao provinces, released last month, MILF rebels were found responsible for several attacks, including one in August in which 28 civilians were killed in the towns of Kolambugan in Lanao del Norte and Maasim in North Cotabato.
The report also accused the military of being behind the detention and forced disappearances of some IDPs under suspicion of being sympathisers or members of the rebel group.
In addition, in Aleosan, North Cotabato, 75 percent of children were not going to school.
Photo: Google Maps
|A map of the Philippines and surrounding countries highlighting Mindanao island|
However, according to Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Esperanza Cabral, the government was continuing to address the needs of IDPs.
The DSWD has extended more than US$1.6 million worth of assistance comprising food and non-food relief items to thousands of needy families. Bunk houses were also being built as temporary shelters for the IDPs in some areas, she said.
"We will continue to provide maximum assistance to the IDPs in adherence to the directive of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to further facilitate the needs of the returning IDPs," said Cabral.
Yet for men such as Macalig, whose house was burned by the military during a clearing operation, that doesn't ring true. His family of nine has no choice but to stay in the single-room Bubongtawaan Primary School with six other families.
Salima Solaiman, 38, said her children regularly catch colds from the other children at the centre due to the cramped conditions.
"During the day, we have to endure intense heat. At night, we have to endure the damp floor and the cold dew that penetrates through the rusty roof of the school," the mother-of-two said.
Photo: Jason Gutierrez/IRIN
|The island has witnessed an upsurge in violence since August|
According to Bert Macapanton, a human rights officer with the Ranaw Consortium of Human Rights Advocates, poor healthcare and lack of relief assistance are a constant problem for the evacuees.
"Flu and diarrhoea are rampant among children, and there's a great need for medical assistance," he said. "There were efforts by the NGOs and the local government to conduct regular medical missions, but they are not enough," he said, adding that the government should focus on providing livelihood and continuous health services to the IDPs.
Leon Dominador Fajardo, a protection specialist for the UN Children's Fund, said the agency was working with the Department of Health to address the problems of evacuees, especially the children.
"So far our programmes have reached the provinces of Shariff Kabunsuan, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato and Maguindanao," he said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions