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.

Pioneers in the 21st century

Displacement is one of the wicked issues affecting people and governments in the 21st century. Camps and centers are not home, merely holding areas. Eventually IDPs leaving the camps find new places to resettle in preferring urban areas for their perceived wealth of opportunities. For the urban planning community, this implies the need for new strategies in designing inclusive settlement areas.

Outside the box thinking

The priority of media now is to report on the real situation of evacuees or IDPs in order to provide accurate data to people and organizations who want to help. I don’t think that their detailed reporting on the fighting – even so far as going alongside the troops as they fire their guns at snipers (thereby disclosing their position to the enemy!) – does not add value in any way except well how manly our armed forces are with their newly-acquired gears. What I’m saying is, let the armed forces do their war thing because we very well could imagine their thing even without media coverage, and not be too focused on that. The information the rest of the country need right now is the situation of displaced persons as well as estimates of trapped population or those who remain in Marawi City- what’s happening to them, their needs, and the like.

For one, the ‘no ID no entry’ rule. I understand why this rule must be enforced but then on the other hand let us also exercise common sense and good judgment as we apply the rule (at checkpoints, etc.). In other words, let us not turn away people fleeing the City without IDs on them just because this is the rule. Many who were turned away are the very people who are truly poor (eg. the old, women, children, young people the ones without vehicles who had to walk miles) and are outside of the social insurance and health systems (hence their having no government IDs at all). Turning them away because we don’t want to “break the rule” does nothing positive for security and only doubly marginalizes the already poor. Hence it is very critical that those in charge of checkpoints are persons with good judgment, intelligence, and common sense.

Second, management of evacuation centers and camps. We’re not new to this. In fact, by this time after so many natural and man-made disasters we’ve been through we should already be experts at it. By this time, sanitary, medical, sleeping, even praying or quiet-time facilities etc. should have been in place, because order on the outside brings order in the inside (ie. the human psyche) which in turn helps displaced people to heal from their trauma and loss. But how come centers look disorganized? Evacuation centers should not be like pig sties. Let’s remember the humanitarian imperative to uphold human dignity in times of disasters- it’s not just the food “relief” that humanitarians need to secure for the affected but also relief in it’s holistic meaning ie. restoration and protection of dignity.

Another, air dropping of food relief for people who remain in the City. A Director I was speaking to a few days earlier said he was very worried about the situation of people who are still in the City, whether by choice or trapped (as when a Director-friend of his went to the City on the second day of the conflict because her relatives are there and she wanted to bring them out herself). I told him, laughing, that the armed forces, it’s humanitarian arm (is it the Office of the Civil Defense?), otherwise, why not Bam Aquino’s recently-established GoNegosyo in ARMM (as it’s first outreach mission)?, should have also dropped food alongside the bombs (or, food-loaded caravans if GoNegosyo?); coordinated with ground personnel for a secure drop and holding area.

Such things, lessons derived from the one before (or, conflicts around the world) would make this martial law different. For me, and as I said, I don’t care if the armed forces pursue the bad ones to the edge of the earth, that’s their job after all, only that the effects of such a pursuit on the human population and community should also be taken cared of with as much care, commitment, and dedication. After all, the resources that are used to pursue the bad guys are the people’s resources (taxes).