IDP voters have high hopes for election

Datu Piang - Payuna Biano, 59, (far right) poses for an unlikely family portrait with four of her young grand children while living in a cramped crawlspace beneath a school in the southern Philippine town of Datu Piang in Maguindanao province. Biano and h
A displaced woman with four of her grand children who live in a cramped space beneath a school in Datu Piang, Maguindanao province, southern Philippines (Jason Gutierrez/IRIN)

As Filipinos go to the polls on 10 May to elect a new president, Payuna Biano hopes the new government will help improve the plight of thousands of displaced people like her.

 

Biano, 59, who has more than 20 children and grandchildren altogether, is among 300 people living hand-to-mouth in a 1m-high crawlspace under the Datu Gumbay elementary school in the town of Datu Piang in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao.

 

They evacuated to the site at the height of fighting between Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels and government troops in late 2008. More than 700,000 people were displaced by the violence across the troubled southern island of Mindanao.  

 

"We have no money, no food. We hope the new set of leaders will help us rebuild our lives, but right now, they are all concerned with trying to win the elections," Biano said, as six of her young grandchildren, in threadbare clothes, played in the dirt.

 

"It's time the politicians found a solution to help us,” she said.

 

Ancestral claims



Fighting erupted in August 2008, when the Supreme Court overturned a proposed deal that would have given the 12,000-strong MILF control over large areas of the southern Philippines they claim as ancestral land.

 

In protest, two of the MILF's most senior commanders launched deadly attacks across  Mindanao, the southern third of the largely Catholic Philippines where they have been waging a bloody rebellion since 1978.

 

The fighting spilled over to agricultural communities, forcing an exodus from villages caught in the crossfire. Humanitarian agencies launched massive relief operations to help the displaced.

 










Maguindanao - A member of pro-government militia unit under the command of the Philippine Army aims his World War II-era M-1 Garand rifle as he guards the perimetre of a village in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao on the eve of national and

Jason Gutierrez/IRIN
Maguindanao - A member of pro-government militia unit under the command of the Philippine Army aims his World War II-era M-1 Garand rifle as he guards the perimetre of a village in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao on the eve of national and
http://www.irinnews.org/photo.aspx
Sunday, May 9, 2010
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Maguindanao - A member of pro-government militia unit under the command of the Philippine Army aims his World War II-era M-1 Garand rifle as he guards the perimetre of a village in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao on the eve of national and


Photo: Jason Gutierrez/IRIN
A member of a pro-government militia unit guards the perimeter of a village in Maguindanao

Nearly 400 people were killed, including soldiers and civilians who were caught in the fighting or fell ill in the overcrowded, disease-ridden evacuation camps, officials said.

 

Both sides agreed to a ceasefire in July, allowing a Malaysian-led peace monitoring mission to return to the area and to resume peace talks. The MILF, however, has already ruled out a final peace accord with the government of outgoing President Gloria Arroyo, who steps down on 30 June.

 

According to displaced housewife Farida Beding, the conflict can be resolved if voters elect local government officials who are neutral and whose agenda include forging adequate laws and safety nets to protect civilians from harm.

 

These officials, the 35-year-old says, should come up with a plan to relocate families still unable to return home.

 

"They should not be pro-MILF or pro-government. They should work to help us return and live normal lives," Beding said, as she herded her children away – they were told to keep a distance because their shelter is also a polling station. An estimated 50 million Filipinos will choose a successor to Arroyo and thousands of local and national officials.

 

Thousands homeless



In the past, conflict between the government and the MILF had flared up now and then, causing “relatively small-scale displacement”, but after the 2008 conflict, displacement soared, with many staying in evacuation sites or with friends and family for longer periods, said Christophe Gillioz, former head of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in central Mindanao.

 

"People had never been displaced for so long," he said, noting that in the past, those displaced typically stayed away for only up to three months.

 

The ICRC said that based on its own monitoring, up to 60,000 were still displaced 18 months after the conflict.

 

The National Disaster Coordinating Council and the Department of Social Welfare and Development cited a higher estimate of about 100,000 still living in temporary shelters or with friends or relatives.

 

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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

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