Less work for ICRC in Southwestern Mindanao as number of ‘bakwits’ drops

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/04 June)— The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is doing less humanitarian work in Southwestern Mindanao because of an improved peace and order condition, an official said over the weekend.

Christoph Sutter, ICRC deputy chief of the ICRC delegation in the Philippines, attributed the reduced activities of the humanitarian agency in the region to the decreasing number of evacuees.

“The needs of the potential beneficiaries on the ground have decreased, particularly in Southwestern Mindanao, where because of the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF, the situation is more stable and has encouraged a lot of displaced people to return to their homes,” Sutter said in an ICRC transcript.

Formal peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front resumed in February in Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations. They met again late in April and agreed to resume late this month.

ICRC is now more involved in early-recovery programs with income generating activities or agricultural projects, rather than large-scale distribution of food and essential household items for hundreds of thousands of victims, as it was the case until mid-2010, Sutter said.

He added they are cutting by P50 million projects lined up later this year in the Philippines as a result of reduced funding for humanitarian activities due to the global economic crisis.

“But we have done everything we can to keep the core of our activities in the country, prioritizing programs directly assisting conflict-affected people and improving conditions in places of detention,” he noted.

“What has been most affected by the cuts are the initiatives that have the long-term objective of promoting knowledge and respect for international humanitarian law among the national authorities, armed and security forces, the academe and civil society,” Sutter said.

The ICRC saw its hands full following the renewed hostilities between the government and the MILF in 2008, as a result of the botched signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

The MOA-AD would have given the MILF wider political and economic powers as well as a territory bigger than that of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, depending on the outcome of plebiscites which would have been held under the agreement.

The Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre noted in an April 2009 report that the internal displacement of 600,000 residents in Mindanao in 2008 was the “the biggest new displacement in the world” out of 4.2 million newly displaced during the year.

Data from the ARMM Program Management Office showed that as of March 29 this year, there were still 54 evacuation centers left in Maguindanao where 5,134 families continued to take refuge. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)