Of Conflict and Displacement: A Documentation on the Human rights violations in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte during the 2008 Armed Conflict and the Implications of Recurring Violence on the Commu

February 14th, 2016 | by Balaod Mindanaw

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.  This world in arms is not spending money alone.  It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.  This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.  Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 16, 1953 speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

 

In the year 2008, a series of armed conflicts happened in some of the municipalities of the Lanao Provinces which conflicts resulted in several instances of Human Rights Violations, either against individual residents or the entire community.  These armed encounters left behind casualties and left the affected communities distraught in several aspects.

 

Two years after the peak of these bloody incidents, news coverage on the conflict has dwindled but the effects of the war on the lives of its victims still persist as they still continue to live in trauma albeit the danger on their lives had become less imminent.

 

up to the present time, may of the victims are still unaware that their human rights have been and are continuously being violated.  Most of them still regard the violent encounters as normal occurrence in their lives with each of them being negligible in the seemingly inevitable scenario of armed conflict.

 

Many have tried to document these incidents but none of these documentations were focused on the specific and detailed experiences of the community oh human rights violations.  Human Rights, as generally defined by the United Nations, are those rights, which are inherent in our nature, and without which, we cannot live as human beings.  Human rights are fundamental freedoms which allow us to develop and use our human qualities, intelligence, talents and conscience, and to satisfy our spiritual and other needs.  The dignity of man and human life is inviolable.  From the dignity of man is derived the right of every person to free development of his personality.  While the Philippine Commission on Human Rights defined Human Rights as supreme, inherent and inalienable rights to life, dignity and self-development, it is the essence of these rights that makes man human.

 

As observed by Atty. George Coquia in one of his books, the deprivation of human rights and fundamental freedoms does not only result in individual and personal tragedy but also creates social and political unrest, sowing the seeds of violence3 and conflict within and between states that “respect for human rights and human dignity is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

 

Many written and published documentation papers on the Lano provinces are focused on statistics: the number of displaced persons, number of casualties, incidents of hostage and abduction, damages to properties like burning of houses and establishment, and the like,  It cannot be denied that these pertain to human rights violations.  However, there has been a tendency to overlook the stories behind these numbers and the implications of the aggregate experience of denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals.  What did these families and individuals go through that they had no other recourse but to leave their homes?  Who and how many among their kin had been killed before their very eyes?  How were their properties burned or taken while they helplessly watched?  How were they treated as they were being held hostage?  How did they escape the hands of their tormentors?  What was their situation in the evacuation centers or in the other places they took refuge in?  What were their feelings and how did they cope with the anxiety?  Most importantly, what specific rights of theirs had been violated during these incidents?  these are just few of the questions that were left unanswered or, maybe, have not even asked.  These are the questions sought to tackled by this documentation.

 

it is because of this apparent void –  the necessity to look into the actual experiences of the communities, particularly the aspect of human rights violations – and the request of the communities affected by the conflicts and the partner-institutions directly operating in the affected areas, ECOWAEB and KALIMUDAN, that this initiative arose.  Concretely, this project is aimed at documenting cases of human rights violations which were committed or came about as a consequence of the armed conflict that occurred in the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lano del Norte.

 

In the process of implementing the project, capacity-building mechanisms were integrated into the project so as to enhance the capacity of community members to deepen their understanding of human rights as well as to develop their skills in documentation and investigation.  It is worth noting that among the main objectives sought to be achieved by this project is to help address the human rights violations at different levels of the justice system not only on the national level but also the international level life before the UN system.  this proposed objective was presented for approval to the Australian Government which fortunately found such objective agreeable and worthwhile.  Thus, the implementation of this documentation project has been possible through the Human Rights Grant Scheme (HRGS).  For the effective implementation of this initiative, the involvement of community representatives was vital.  In particular, the community paralegals did not stop at sharing their stories.  They went out of their way to probe deeper into the stories in their respective local communities in order to enrich their inputs and substantiate their stories.

 

the data gathering – which the paralegals facilitated –took an entire year of documentation of different experiences of the communities.  After several monitoring clinics during which the paralegals ensured that affidavits of the community residents will be comprehensively written and even translated into Tagalog (for those executed by community representatives in Maranao or Arabic), conducted interviews of their fellow victims, this human rights documentation report materialized.  The report depicts the stories of human rights violations as narrated by the community members themselves and contains their own interpretation and analysis of their situation.  it likewise presents the community’s reflections and the recommendations they came up with to address their specific demands.

 

The report includes a review of relevant literature, particularly on the armed conflict in Mindanao.  The pattern of the armed conflict in Mindanao that has stretched for over several decades is also discussed shortly here, including the negotiation efforts, the momentary cessation and the recurrence of armed conflict.  Several reports on the 2008 armed conflict have been also culled out from different sources to present the extent of the damage throughout the whole of Mindanao of the armed conflict.