Mindanao humanitarian situation
Three simultaneous law enforcement operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against non-state armed groups are reported as underway in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Sulu in the newly formed political entity Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) since the first half of March 2019. Renewed armed conflict erupted between the AFP and a faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on 9 March in four areas in Maguindanao: Salbu, Pagatin, Mamasapano, and Shariff Aguak, causing the cumulative displacement of more than 39,800 people, of which over 35,200 are inside 19 evacuation centres or staying with host families. In Shariff Aguak, some classes are suspended while others continue while the school is simultaneously being used as an evacuation centre. The conditions of displaced farmers and fisherfolk are further aggravated by drought conditions, where central Mindanao is the most affected region. While the military is not allowing the displaced to return home due to the operations, some IDPs have been able to check on their crops and farm animals.
In Lanao del Sur, armed encounters south of Lake Lanao, particularly in the municipalities of Tuburan and Pagayawan were reported between the AFP and the remnants of the Maute armed group on 11 and 14 March which caused the displacement of more than 8,900 people from two municipalities. Displaced people in Lanao del Sur are sheltered in schools, madrasahs or are staying with host families.
In the island provinces of Mindanao, the AFP continues to engage the Abu Sayaff Group in Sulu following the bombing of Jolo cathedral in January 2019. A spike of encounters in February led to displacements of more than 5,600 people in the municipalities of Patikul, Tongkil, Jolo, Indanan and Maimbung. Cumulatively, there are over 56,000 people displaced in BARMM as of 21 March (BARMM Ministry of Social Services). Displacement data are expected to change once assessment results are finalized.
Government response and humanitarian coordination
Local and provincial authorities are leading the response, assisted by the Philippine Red Cross and humanitarian organizations in distributing food, relief items and medical assistance. UNHCR working with local NGOs has distributed kitchen sets, mats and tarpaulins, while UNICEF is supporting local health units with emergency health kits.
The BARMM government’s humanitarian response team, BARMM-HEART, called for a joint meeting with the Mindanao Humanitarian Team (MHT), composed of Mindanao-based UN agencies and international and local NGOs on 21 March to launch a joint assessment in the affected areas. Government authorities, with support from the Philippine Red Cross and the MHT are leading the response and have traveled to three affected provinces on 25 March. Participating MHT agencies and humanitarian partners include Action Against Hunger, ACTED, CFSI, FAO, IOM, Islamic Relief Worldwide, MMI, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tyakap Kalilintad, UNFPA, UNHCR, UnyPhil, and WFP. Additionally, Al-Mujadilah Foundation, CARE Philippines, Nonviolent Peaceforce, and OCHA joined the team in the Lanao del Sur assessment. The Provincial Government of Maguindanao is coordinating with MHT members to monitor the situation and assess priority needs of the affected population.
Initial assessments show that there is a need for sustained food assistance, potable water, and relief items such as soap, sleeping mats and mosquito nets. With continued insecurity and the uncertainty when the law enforcement operations will end, it remains difficult for IDPs to continue their education, farming, and livelihood. According to military authorities, operations will continue as long as the threat remains, and the armed groups remain active in the target areas.