‘Bakwits’ in Mindanao due to communist revolt highest in Caraga–IDMC

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/15 August)—The Caraga region has posted the highest number of “bakwits” or internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in Mindanao due to the communist insurgency, one of the world’s longest-running conflict, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) said in its August 2013 report titled “Living in the shadows: Displaced Lumads locked in a cycle of poverty.”

In its 42-page report, IDMC said that Caraga has the highest number of displacement in Mindanao as a result of the armed conflict between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Based on incidents that happened from 2008 to 2012, there were at least 43,809 individuals displaced by the conflict between the government and the NPA rebels, the group said.

“Caraga region (Region 13), consisting of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur, had the highest share of IDPs with 16,392 [individuals], or 38 percent of all IDPs recorded during that period,” the report said.

Caraga is known for its mining industry that has been the subject of attacks by communist guerrillas in recent years.

The Davao region (Region 11), consisting of Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental and Davao del Sur, recorded 15,395 IDPs, or 35 percent of all IDPs for the period covered by the report.

Around 1,300 NPA fighters, or one third of the NPA’s force, are believed to be in Mindanao, mainly operating in remote and mountainous areas inhabited by indigenous people. The Caraga and Davao regions are two known NPA strongholds. The military maintains a strong presence in both regions, according to the report.

The Soccsksargen region (Region 12), consisting of North and South Cotabato, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat provinces, had 10,865 IDPs, or 24 percent of the total displacement from 2008 to 2012.

Only 1,527 IDPs were recorded in Northern Mindanao (Region 10), all of them displaced in the province of Bukidnon, accounting for three percent of all displacements during the period.

Mindanao has two other regions—the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which is known more for the Moro rebellion, and Zamboanga Peninsula or Region 9.

The report did not indicate any figure for these two regions as far as displacement caused by the government-NPA conflict is concerned.

But based on available data collected from a wide range of national and international actors, as well as media reports, it is estimated that at least 43,809 people were displaced in Mindanao between 2008 and 2012 in 85 separate incidents, affecting 116 sitios in 12 different provinces, IDMC reported.

Displacement is mainly the result of armed clashes between the NPA and the Armed Forces of the Philippines but also sometimes of the militarization of communities and accompanying violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, according to the report.

Frederick Kok, IDMC senior country analyst, said on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, which is celebrated every 9th of August, that IDMC’s latest report “highlights the plight of Mindanao’s indigenous people or Lumads.”

“Caught between the two warring parties, the Lumads are exposed to high levels of violence and are at risk [to] abuses [from] both sides,” the IDMC said.

Per province, Surigao del Sur topped the most number of IDPs, followed by Davao del Norte, North Cotabato, Davao Oriental, Agusan del Norte, Compostela Valley, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur, Bukidnon, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and South Cotabato.

It is estimated that the 46-year-old conflict between the government and the CPP/NDF/NPA has resulted in the death of at least 40,000 people. According to government data collected between 1978 and 2010, almost half of the casualties were NPA, close to one third were military and police, and a fifth were civilians, the report said.

The IDMC, established in 1998 by the Norwegian Refugee Council, is an international body monitoring internal displacement worldwide.

The full report can be accessed at www.internal-displacement.org. (Roel Catoto/MindaNews)