On the “do no harm” humanitarian principle and the Moro problem

The Moro struggle is not just about a conflict between the Philippine government and Moro rebel groups nor a religious conflict between the Muslims and Christians in Mindanao. Rather it is a complex, deep-rooted and multifaceted one spanning several centuries starting from the Spanish and American colonial times up to the present.

No single cause can sufficiently explain the Moro problem. Despite the many literature on the conflict, much is still to be told, learned and understood regarding the causes and consequences of the conflict that the Moros believe to be their holocaust.

Much of what has been written about the conflict in Mindanao focused mainly on its economic cost and partially on its social cost. Most of these accounts failed to expose the wounds and sufferings that are deeply entrenched in the Moro psyche that continuously shape and influence the Moro’s attitude towards the Philippine government and the rest of the majority Christian Filipinos. Since no respite was given for the wounds to heal, they are continuously aggravated by the protracted war and the elusive peaceful resolution of the problem.

Human Development, Economic and Social Costs, and Spillovers of Conflict: The Case of the Province of Lanao del Sur, Yasmin Busran-Lao

In our last stop of relief operations for Marawi City evacuees, while I was observing the queue of evacuees, under a very hot sun, toward the tables where their names would be verified against earlier validations and their names registered etcetera, a Moro leader came up to me. He told me of his concern that for fellow Moro who have not gone through a process of awareness, understanding, and thus opened themselves up to healing and closure, the fact that Christians were the front-liners in the operation (not withstanding that, too, the soldiers and police in the Marawi conflict are Christians) might again revive sentiments against Christians. My spontaneous reply was, “I understand. That was exactly what I was thinking last night.” When I got back to my place after the relief operations at another town, I couldn’t help the tears flow and spent much of the night trying to understand where humanity – us, Filipino Christians – did wrong. But such thinking always end up in me realizing my own limitations, humankind’s limitations to resolve it’s own problems. Humanitarians can only do so much. I finally went to sleep thoroughly humbled yet again.

The Moro leader had approached me asking if I could help them facilitate for a phase two of the relief operations to assist Moro evacuees undergo a culture of peace education, essentially a process of peace building that begins with the self and then with others. As goes the UNESCO Charter, since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed. 

Moving on, still on our exchange, but with one other a Christian migrant who joined us, I said, “but, you know, I’ve also thought about what if I was on the other side, an evacuee? how do I respond to aid, people helping me?”

“Ah,” said the Moro leader looking amused, “sige daw ano? (okay, what?)”

“Sige (okay),” added the Christian migrant, “ano ang gagawin mo given na ang taas ng pinag-aralan mo (what would someone who’s had a university education like you do in that situation)?”

I laughed and said, “I’d refused to be interviewed. I’d refused to have my photo taken. To hell with them.”

The two men became silent and offered no response or reaction. I believed they fell into thinking. Perhaps the Moro leader was thinking I’m worse than his people? I didn’t offer further explanation. Let them think about what I meant, which is that human dignity is for every human being regardless of religion; it’s about one human being responding to another human being and taking care to do that justly, and to achieve that one must have an understanding of one’s own basic needs and rights transcending one’s prejudices against race, religion, gender, etc. For example: Just because someone is an evacuee doesn’t mean he or she is stupid or uneducated or his or her rights suspended that other people think they could go around the evacuation centers taking shots and making them public and thrusting microphones, recorders, or cameras at, for instance, mothers breast-feeding their babes, demanding or expecting coherent replies (and when they receive incoherent responses they readily label the evacuee-interviewees as schizophrenic. My god, who is the schizophrenic in such a situation)? Would I want that done to me if I were an evacuee? NO! If I’m required or pressured to be interviewed in exchange for food relief then take back your food relief! But media do that to evacuees to their fellow Christians too (think of evacuees from natural disasters in Luzon and Visayas).

Irresponsible callous acts are monitored by the offended party and added in it’s long List of Sins by the Enemy, naturally. Then when the offended party has decided it’s done with listing, it fires back and in the process not only are members of the offending party hurt but also innocent parties. Media and those dealing directly with fragile communities therefore have a great responsibility in sustaining the gains in peace building.

At it’s most basic level, human security consists of the freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom from humiliation.

Human Security and Armed Conflict, Philippine Human Development Report 2005

Prolonged humiliation does things to your head not to mention it’s ill effects on emotions and the body hence being genuine is a response that is so welcomed, in fact, heals.

Rude awakenings

The Fire Rooster is indeed a hard worker. It’s still the first days of the new year and already we’ve been buzzed up to hard realities. We need those energy bars to keep up!

First: Typhoon Nockten/Nina made a total of eight landfalls. It’s second was in Pili, Camarines Sur when it was at it’s strongest, around 300 kph. Turns out 12,000 out of the municipality’s 17,000 households incurred damages. And except at the town proper, electricity has yet to be restored.

I learned of this just two days ago. I was shocked because media has reported just about everything post-Nina but these. The typhoon struck the area on Christmas Day while the rest of the country were gorging on Noche Buena fare and joyful for gifts received. There was a report about the Vice President who went to her hometown, Sorsogon, right after her return from the US where she spent Christmas. She commented on the response as “I think it is somewhat slow” and “wish(ing) I was here”, but nothing more afterward.

As it happens around here, owing to so-called politics over local funds earmarked for disasters, local governments have again failed to step up as first responders. By this, I mean not just handing out one-time emergency food rations but as mandated of them in the DRRM Law, ensures compliance to humanitarian standards, and systematic and comprehensive disaster management up to the time affected communities have recovered. Once again, it appears the bulk of response (as there are still households in remoter areas in need of food rations), recovery, and reconstruction work is heaved upon civil society, triggering within the community switch to familiar hyper-fast high-adrenaline mode of doing things.

Stressful for humanitarian workers but on one hand, projects that do get funded give rise to relatively high-paying job opportunities for otherwise unemployed locals that in turn help revive otherwise stagnant local markets, contributing in the long term to the phenomenon of disaster areas becoming boom towns. For the urban manager, this opens up the opportunity to plan ahead and set in motion the strategy that will shape the “future town” the people want (as opposed to a hands off approach to growth and development which inevitably leads to sprawl which was what happened to Baguio City after the 1991 earthquake).

Second: Former President Noynoy Aquino et.al. are sued for plunder over his sign off during his term on the shipment to a bank in Thailand of USD141M 3,500 metric tons of gold bars of 99.999 percent purity confiscated from the Marcoses. In exchange of the gold bars, the Philippine Government under Aquino had purportedly agreed with Thailand’s Centennial Energy Company to produce funds for humanitarian projects. Talk about disaster politics! True or false, my god!!!

Third: South Korea has the fastest average internet connection speed globally, Akamai reports. At 26.3mbps Whoa! At the rate we’re used to here, 4.6mbps, Filipinos find it hard to imagine that kind of speed.

What is with speed? I knew of employees who got memos (getting sacked even) for “not immediately responding to urgent emails” and “lying about why you’re not responding to urgent emails”; organizations missing out on much needed funding because “sorry, you did not send in your proposals on time”. Headquarters with their relatively faster internet speed have difficulty believing that field offices located in godforsaken areas are hard put (and fed up) with what to them is a 0.0000000000001mbps internet speed at best. The email site takes years to open and another century for one document to be uploaded. Then, just when you’re on the verge of throwing out the device you hear a beep. It’s the telco sending a notice hi! we noticed that your data usage today has been really high. we’re now reducing your browsing speed to maintain quality service for all users blah blah blah; oops, you’ve used up the MBs of your surf promo. The regular browsing rate will now apply…avoid unexpected data charges by turning on SurfAlert blah blah blah. In these places, it is more reliable and speedier and a lot less stressful to send documents, photos, and recordings via bus lines but then this forfeits the meaning of ‘urgent’. Folks at head offices who rarely visit therefore wouldn’t know how it is really conclude that field people are ignoring their notice. They refuse to acknowledge that internet speed is a valid concern.

Same conversation between consumers and the telcos. The latter, because they’re only, what, three (plus a subsidiary each)?, they put on earplugs to cancel out the constant banging of customers on their doors (picked up even by international papers such as Forbes), or better yet, stage superfluous marketing gigs that promise more than what could actually be delivered. In this sob story we see the Department of Communications approaching the telcos’ doorsteps at incredibly slow-mo- ten years at a time. Could someone please throw them the dictionary opened at ‘breakneck’?