KIEV, Ukraine (MindaNews / 6 July) – It was surreal to be invited to Ukraine, near Russia where President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law one year ago. Here I was in Kiev, Ukraine from two days of travel, and mixed emotions flowed through me – anger that this is where the President without warning or notice to his fellow Maranaos prompted airstrikes that traumatized a population, and joy that I could see Europe and speak for the displaced.
At the airport, drivers looking for their passenger visitors held placards in Ukrainian language. I searched for my name but the sundo seemingly came late. So I rode a metered taxi to President’s Hotel that gave me a chance to look at the sights I passed by.
Indeed, the hotel, located at Hospitalna Avenue and minutes away from the central park of Kiev, was presidential. Its name had many flags hoisted near it.
True that’s it’s normal to see here a lot of beautiful faces akin to models. Flowers abound and cafes are in every corner around our Kiev area. Kiev is the more expensive area but I was lucky to ride a train to the farthest end and see that even lovely Ukraine has its poor areas, too.
State of the bakwit address (SOBA) while the President delivered his State of the Nation Address in July 2017, press conferences, reparation bill, social media campaigns and other Philippine innovations led by evacuees themselves impressed the Global Protection Cluster meeting held at Kiev, on July 3 at the President’s Hotel.
The forum was timely in that more than a year since the Marawi siege, there is yet no rehabilitation in place for Ground Zero, the center of the Islamic City of the Philippines.
It may be recalled that civilians also held a Bakwit “Power” or a march in response to all-out wars in Maguindanao in the last decade.
Like the Philippines, Ukraine, which is hosting this Refugee Forum I am attending has its displaced persons (IDPs) from a conflict which I characterized as the longest in the world.
Counting 20 years of UN principles that guide IDP rights, the forum gathered countries like Cyprus, Sudan and Georgia and we from Southern Philippines who have our displacement stories with policy actors from the UN Protection Cluster which has its counterpart in Marawi.
Many lessons affirm themselves. Do not destroy a generation’s memory, war must heal a population.
Ukraine like the whole of Europe and its former Soviet Union federation has outstanding architecture and memorials that remember their martyrs and heroes. Centuries-old buildings were preserved, malls continue to have tops we only see on Mission Impossible and other action movies. I also saw the “KGB” (State Security Committee) building. How we wish our torogans and old homes were also saved during the Marawi siege.
I do take our role to speak about our situation seriously that we do not forget the privilege of being invested upon by a funder like the UN Higher Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) that sponsored our P50,000 worth of a ticket back and forth plus all other expenses including a visa, insurance, tickets from Cagayan de Oro-Manila. The travel after all included strict requirements on insurance, bank statements, etc.
Deputy Minister Tuka himself spoke of appreciating the inputs we might have for them to improve the participation of IDPs. Our Philippine case showed that Maranao ways, i.e. family support systems, assisted, if not led to, the rescue and survival of IDPs because of trust and access to such victims. Food was distributed by evacuee volunteers themselves, CSOs participated in formal meetings that discussed service delivery. They even demand formal representation in all structures of governance and a vote in the task force for Marawi rehabilitation.
I also spoke of children and youth platforms so that their sectors can be reached. Social media is vital for an archipelago divided into 7100 islands. This the other countries did not have, an active citizenry that were guarding their rights.
In the open forum, we discussed the value of people to people relations when services are usually top to bottom. Government may be slow to reach all victims because of many factors. Among peoples, they can help each other in ways that can benefit themselves even spiritually.
Makulit ang kababaihan. So we also ask representation in all bodies, i.e. police, army, security councils. UN Security Council resolution 1325 is a reference, and the Philippines is a model anew in having technical working groups and a framework itself.
I saw Sudan speaker Fatima Bashier shed a tear in reaction to Ambassador Pakan who said PEOPLE MATTER several times.
Fatima and I were the IDP speakers. Even if she apologized for her English (Arabic was her mother tongue), her sharing was shocking in that women would be doubly burdened by being a woman and evacuee. In one area, she could not go out lest she could be raped. She further intimated to me that marrying 30 wives is not abnormal for a guy, yaaaay.
For Marawi, I was thankful that some of the 50 participants from UNICEF and other agencies engaged us. Some even asked for a copy of our presentation which is reference for recommendations to Ukraine itself and the Global Protection Forum which groups 16 agencies. I dedicate our 15 minutes to rescuers who brave bullets in rescuing trapped civilians of Marawi to this day, serving the hungry evacuees without any badge but bravery.
It felt good to be not just a victim but as someone who could share exemplars of rescue work on the field.
I am lucky I can share the Philippine experience which was shared by the UNHCR Ukraine in its Facebook page. Global Protection Forum, an interagency of 16 groups could also draw lessons for further study in their October Forum on IDP VOTING RIGHTS to be held in Amman, Jordan.
Thanks, UNHCR Ukraine for the smiles, fine dinners, yogurt, pastries, all kinds of bread, lovely staff in our bid to remember the suffering in Syria and elsewhere. Thanks UNHCR Philippines for facilitating the visa.
Actions are needed and here is where we push for them. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Samira Ali Gutoc-Tomawis, Ll.B., co-founder of the Young Moro Professionals resigned as Commissioner of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission in late May, days after the Marawi Crisis started, citing personal reasons and policy questions. Samira is one of the organizers of the Ranao Rescue Team, a group set up to respond to the crisis. She had earlier served as an assemblywoman, women sector, of the Regional Legislative Assembly, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; was former director, Al-Amanah Islamic Bank, Inc. and former director of the Marawi Resort Hotel, Inc.)