Protect the Civilians, Respect the IDPs

Jul. 13, 2009

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) calls the attention of the international humanitarian agencies and the United Nations to step up their efforts to protect the civilians and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maguindanao and Cotabato in the light of the recent pronouncement by the spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, that these IDPs are the “enemy reserve force.”

This statement is extremely dangerous as it only shows a military mindset which could not fairly distinguish the difference between a combatant and a civilian. That probably explains why, despite the calls to stop the indiscriminate bombings and the torching of civilians’ homes, these atrocities remain unabated for the simple reason that to the mind of the military these people are enemies anyway, albeit reserved momentarily.

A curious mind need only go to the evacuation centers to find out who these IDPs are. They could be teachers, barangay officials, students, women, mothers, young children, babies, elderly. These are civilians whose rights are protected under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the UN Guiding Principle on Internal Displacement (UNGPID). These are human beings whose only aspiration is to be able to return home and live in peace. These are the people whom the AFP is bound to protect. For almost 12 months now, these IDPs have been running back and forth, caught in an armed conflict that doesn’t see any resolution in sight.

What is worrisome here is that these civilians have one thing in common, they are Muslims. And as suggested by the AFP statement, they are viewed as “enemy reserve force” by reason of their ethnicity and religion. This kind of statement smacks of bias and prejudice against a particular class of people — which makes it all the more dangerous.

MPC therefore calls on the Secretary of National Defense and the Chief of Staff to correct this perception and categorization of the IDPs as “enemy reserve force” and direct its officers and men on the ground to strictly observe the IHL and the UNGPID as part and parcel of their duty to protect the people and to observe civilian supremacy at all times.

MPC calls on the United Nations to immediately intervene into this situation and proactively take on protective measures that will ensure safety and well-being of the IDPs and the larger civilian population; for the Commission on Human Rights to conduct investigation on the reported cases of food blockade, indiscriminate bombings, looting and torching of civilian homes, desecration of mosques and house of worship and other forms of human rights violations.

Finally, we call on all Mindanaoans to unite, preserve the gains of the peace process and show our solidarity as Muslims and Christians in the spirit of genuine dialogue, freedom and justice.

For reference:

Rick R. FLores, mobile number 0910-310-9178

Communications Specialist

Mindanao Peoples Caucus

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