More volunteers join all-women civilian protection unit in Mindanao

ALABEL, Sarangani (MindaNews/3 March) – Another all-women contingent, mostly peace advocates, joined the Sarangani unit of the Civilian Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) after the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) resumed this year their formal negotiations.

Two full time CPC personnel, along with ten other women part-time volunteers, were sworn on Monday into their new task at monitoring civilian protection and respect of places of worship and social congregation in Sarangani, whose western coastal provinces were affected in the previous outbreak of armed hostilities.

The Sarangani unit of the CPC was the third to be installed with such independent monitoring unit on the part of the Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC), one of four non-government organizations that were granted the authority by the IMT to compose a civilian monitoring unit.

The MPC earlier installed the CPC unit in Aleosan, North Cotabato in October and in the two Lanao provinces in November last year.

Analisa Ugay, MPC CPC coordinator, said that only Sultan Kudarat and Davao Oriental remained as the areas with no CPC unit so far. Armed clashes between government troops and MILF rebels have occurred in some parts of these provinces.

She said the MPC would still identify and validate the towns in the two provinces but assured that they have a long list of volunteers to compose two more CPCs for these areas. She said that they would do it within the next three months.

It would be the IMT which would finally select the CPC members from those selected and endorsed by the MPC.

The IMT has authorized only four NGOs to help compose the CPCs in all the conflict affected areas in Mindanao: the MPC; Non-Violent Peace Force (NVPF) based in Brussels, Belgium; the Member Organizations of Government Officials and Professionals (MOGOP), and the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MHRAC).

The NVPF would field its own CPCs in the conflict areas, the MOGOP in the two Lanao provinces and the MHRAC in all towns with Moro communities affected by the conflict in Mindanao. Only the MPC has composed an all-women CPC.

Maasim Mayor Jose Zamorro said that the CPC “and any monitoring team would be a great help in my area”. He said that the western part of his town has been the scene of destructive gunbattle in 2008 when government soldiers engaged a unit of the MILF.

That year, several big armed units of the MILF under three field commanders broke out from their positions either to attack government positions or defend themselves from government attacks, according to the MILF.

The government accused the three field commanders, however, of initiating the armed attacks and targeted the civilian communities in Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur and in Sarangani. Government filed criminal charges and demanded from the MILF to punish them.

Mary Ann Arnado, executive director of the MPC, said that the 2008 outbreak of hostilities were “your concrete experience of the lack of civilian protection component in the peace negotiations”.

The creation of the CPC came out as the demand of the affected villagers, but most notably expressed by the evacuees, whose number reached more than 600,000, a figure larger than any of the flashpoints of internal armed conflicts in many African, Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

The role of the CPCs were displayed in tarpaulin posters inside the gymnasium of the Sarangani Provincial government center here where the MPC and the provincial government launched the provincial unit of the MPC’s CPC.

These were to monitor the following: safety and security of civilians in conflict areas; acts of violations against civilians in conflict areas; respect by both government and MILF of the places of worship, such as mosques and churches, and religious places and social institutions, including schools, madaris (plural of the Arabic language school madrasah), hospitals and all places of civilian nature; strengthen linkages and information sharing between the IMT and peace panels; the needs of internally displaced persons, or evacuees; and strengthen ownership of the peace process by supporting and empowering communities to handle the conflicts at the grassroots level. (MindaNews)