COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/21 September) — Internally displaced persons, more popularly known as “bakwits,” will be entitled to a hundred day “guaranteed employment” in a government project every year, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles told the ARMM Peace Summit Tuesday.
“We are setting up an employment guarantee program where one member of identified vulnerable households will be granted 100 days of guaranteed employment in a government project every year,” she said.
The employment program runs for three years.
Deles said she did not have with her the data on how many IDP families will benefit.
Not all bakwits, however, can avail of the program, she said, triggering fears this could spawn conflict among the bakwits themselves.
There are still an estimated 2,500 families displaced by the war in 2008 who have remained in the evacuation centers, Deles told MindaNews in a later interview. She said there were 15,000 families still in the evacuation centers at the start of the Aquino administration.
Peace advocates are supportive of the employment program.
“That’s a good move. It is more empowering and dignifying compared to dole out rations that reduced IDPs into hopeless dependents. I just hope politicians will not (pocket) the wages for these IDPs just like what they did to the rice and teachers’ salaries,” Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus told MindaNews.
Lawyer Zainuddin Malang of the Mindanao Human Rights Action Centre said, “bakwits could use all the help they can get. But proof of the pudding is in the eating. Let us hope the real bakwits – the ones who were actually displaced, the ones who truly need help – are the ones who benefit from it,”
“It’s a good idea,” said Sammy Maulana, secretary-general of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society.
Three-year Recovery Plan
The “guaranteed employment” is part of what Deles calls as the “recovery plan” for conflict-affected and vulnerable communities.
“As peace negotiations are pursued, the critical work on the ground – particularly in conflict-affected areas – resumes immediately,” she said.
The program relies “heavily on the peace and reconciliation efforts initiated by communities” and will focus on vulnerable households and “adopt an integrated approach to understanding and addressing the issues at the household, community, and sub-regional levels.”
She said the recovery plan, whose pilot phase they plan to launch “in early October of this year” will have a strong community organizing, orientation, and trainings for capacity development and will also pursue the “convergence of efforts of national agencies but will also heavily draw the support of local governments to ensure sustainability.”
The pilot phase will cover seven municipalities with 20 communities of around 2,000 families, she told MindaNews.
She said they hope the recovery plan “will be in full blast” by January 2001.
Deles told the ARMM Peace Summit that the recovery plan will be approached in five components: transitional support that will address the community’s most basic needs, especially education, health and sanitation; household and individual social protection support such as conditional cash transfer program and assistance for individuals and families in crisis by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD); community-based improvement program which will depend on how the community envisions itself as emerging from the conflict; security and tenure; and livelihood support.
The latter includes the “guaranteed employment” project although Deles added that the support “is basically an open menu depending on the skills of the community.”
The 100-day employment, she told MindaNews, is an “emergency employment and technical skills enhancement program for public works and other employable skills such as welding, sewing, etc..”
She said this is “already vetted with DSWD and ARMM. Need to vet with Department of Labor and Employment and Department of Public Works and Highways but initial year will be community infrastructure under Kalahi. We have data that community-driven development generates rural employment at 25% of total cost.”
“Profiling of affected families in ten sites of pilot already ongoing and initial list is ready by the 25th,” she said, adding the national household targeting system of DSWD will be used, verified by affected communities in community assemblies.”
The recovery program has a time frame of three years. She explained that given the multi-faceted challenges of communities recovering from conflict, “interventions of less than three years will not be enough, but more than this will not be sustainable.”
She said IDP communities will be asked to “draw up a plan within a three-year horizon and a detailed one-year physical and financial plan that will become the basis for pushing forward convergent peace and development effort on the ground.”
Anthropologist Jowel Canuday, a MindaNews reporter now doing his fieldwork for his doctoral degree on social anthropology at Oxford University, said “the granting of aid and development programs should be exhausted, especially by the government.”
“This should be done, however, in the context of human rights, not merely as a matter of social assistance. This is a matter of state responsibility to its citizens,” he said, adding “the greater challenge for government that has been left out in all discussion is the bakwits’ right to compensation. These are communities with social and economic capital destroyed by the state’s four decades of militarist policy.”
At the launching of three books here on August 5 (“The GRP, MILF Peace Drafts” with Analysis and Comments by Patricio P. Diaz and Rudy Buhay Rodil, “War Wounded” by Gail Ilagan, and Canuday’s “Bakwit: The Power of the Displaced”), Canuday, whose seminal work on the bakwits for his MA in Anthropology is now a book published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press, said he tracked four decades of recurring experience of displaced people in his field sites in the Maguindanao-North Cotabato area and concluded that it was not poverty that drove these areas into conflict. “It was the policy of continuing armed campaigns that drove these areas into impoverishment,” he said.
He noted the case of Barangay Buliok in Pagalungan town in Maguindanao, a former MILF base and the center of the massive military offensives in February 2003, as a prime example of how recurring armed conflicts rendered the area impoverished through the decades. He noted that before the war in the 1970s, Pagalungan was a flourishing and an important trading center for the people in the Liguasan Marsh.
“Had it not been for the recurring armed conflicts, Buliok, Pagalungan would not have been as impoverished and ravaged as it is today,” Canuday said as he called for a serious review of government’s assumption of the conflict as solely rooted on poverty.
Under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID), Principle 3 states that national authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons within their jurisdiction and that IDPs have the right to request and to receive protection and humanitarian assistance from these authorities and they shall not be persecuted or punished for making such a request.
Principle 29 states that “competent authorities have the duty and responsibility to assist returned and/or resettled internally displaced persons to recover, to the extent possible, their property and possessions which they left behind or were dispossessed of upon their displacement” and that “when recovery of such property and possessions is not possible, competent authorities shall provide or assist these persons in obtaining appropriate compensation or another form of just reparation.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)