The Socio-political Situation
In the Philippines’ southern island group of Mindanao, the four-decade-long conflict between GPH and Moro armed groups as well as clan feuds (locally known as rido) have led to cyclical civilian displacements. In February 2011, the Aquino administration and the MILF formally revived the peace process which collapsed in August 2008. In the latest round of peace talks, held in September 2012, the parties jointly announced “substantive gains in the negotiations” and progress “towards the crafting of a framework agreement”. Despite positive developments, actors on the ground note uncertainty about how the final settlement could be achieved.
Other security risks persist in Mindanao. The communist New People’s Army (NPA) has carried out a country-wide guerrilla campaign against the Government since 1968. The Islamist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which is linked to Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, poses a terrorist threat. Election-related violence is common, and a general lack of respect for the rule of law and risks of activities by kidnap-for-ransom gangs and lawless groups have reached an alarming level, particularly in the Sulu Archipelago, where three ICRC staff members were kidnapped in January 2009 and later released.[i]
The United Nations does not have a role in peace processes, but the Security Council mandates pertaining to the Protection of Civilians, and Children and Armed Conflicts are relevant in the Philippines. With the MILF, NPA and ASG named as parties to the conflict that have been involved in recruiting and using children in armed conflict, UNICEF is leading the implementation of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on Grave Child Rights Violations.
The Philippines ranked third as the country with the highest disaster risk in the world, according to a 2011 UN study.[ii] Natural hazards include typhoons, floods, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, with an annual average of five destructive typhoons. Furthermore, 22.6 per cent of the country’s population (total: 94.9 million) lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day (in purchasing-power parity terms).[iii] An increasing number of people live in vulnerable areas at risk from the impact of natural disasters.
For this reason, natural disaster preparedness and response is essential in the Philippines. The Government is committed to improving its disaster management capabilities and coordinating international humanitarian aid. Legal instruments to strengthen national and local disaster management are in place, however, implementation has been a challenge due to lack of human and financial resources. The international humanitarian community will continue to provide critical aid on occasions when the scale of the disaster has overwhelmed national mechanisms and available resources.
As a lower-middle-income country[iv] with a stable political economy, the Philippines attracted $2.1 billion in official development assistant grants in 2011[v] yet only $33.6 million in humanitarian funding.[vi] Donors have traditionally given more attention to long-term development programming in the Philippines, leaving a major gap in resource mobilization for a protracted humanitarian situation. There is no funding mechanism in place to provide timely assistance to medium-scale natural disasters across the country in cases where the national Government does not officially request for international assistance, yet relies on limited international assistance to complement its material- and technical-response capacity.
The Humanitarian Situation
Over the past three years, the humanitarian situation in central Mindanao in relation to the Government-MILF conflict has shown steady improvement. Most of the 750,000 people displaced have returned home or resettled in relocation sites after both parties agreed to suspend military operations in July 2009. However, most people are struggling to survive due to vulnerability related to years of repetitive displacement and insecurity, compounded by underdevelopment and natural disasters. A study by WFP and the World Bank found that the returnees have the highest prevalence of food insecurity (42 per cent), even higher than those who remain displaced (25 per cent). The host communities also need support.[vii]
In August 2012, fighting between the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an armed group in Mindanao, and the Philippines Armed Forces displaced 33,000 people, of whom about 19,500 remained in evacuation centres as of 30 August 2012. Rido violence continues to cause sporadic and relatively short-lived displacements, which are difficult to track. Furthermore, the Government reported that the humanitarian situation in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (Basulta) has deteriorated in recent years, and it requested international aid. An assessment of the needs in these areas is pending due to access constraints given the insecurity.
Parts of Mindanao have also been susceptible to flooding caused by seasonal monsoon rains. In May and June 2011, torrential rains triggered widespread flooding in central Mindanao, affecting nearly 860,000 people in five provinces (total population: 4.1 million). The Government requested international assistance on that occasion.[viii]
Regarding the impact of natural disasters in the rest of the country, Government reports covering 2000 to 2006 indicate that hydro-meteorological hazards trigger, on an annual average, more than 1,000 deaths and 800 injuries, and displace 752,900 people.[ix] With climate change, disasters are now more frequent and severe. The Government requested international assistance for Tropical Storm Washi. The storm affected 700,000 people, and it triggered a revision of the 2012 Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) and a Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) rapid response contribution of $2.9 million. This raised CERF’s total contribution to the Philippines in 2012 to $6.8 million.
The Humanitarian Strategy and Response
The HAP Midyear Review 2012, with a total requirement of $51.2 million, is the main humanitarian programme through which humanitarian partners in the Philippines coordinate, plan, implement and monitor responses in Mindanao (see annex 1 for an illustration of humanitarian programmes in relation to peacebuilding and development strategies in the Philippines). For the 2013 HAP, the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and its constituent, the Mindanao Humanitarian Team (MHT), proposed the following strategic objectives for the humanitarian response in Mindanao:
(1) Support the Government in responding to the assessed humanitarian and protection needs of the affected people and related capacity-building efforts.
(2) Support Government efforts to assist affected people in recovery, whether they have returned or relocated or remain displaced.
The strategic objectives are underpinned by principles and commitment to needs-based planning founded on credible needs assessments and analysis, as well as to mainstream gender, protection and sustainability concerns (i.e. early recovery). Furthermore, the 2013 HAP plans to contribute to achieving durable solutions for displaced people. Preliminary discussions for developing a durable-solutions strategy is being led by the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office.
At the national level, the HCT aims to strengthen coordination among humanitarian stakeholders to ensure that preparedness activities and response to natural disasters are undertaken in accordance with humanitarian principles; are timely, effective and efficient; and contribute to long-term recovery. The HCT, with OCHA’s support, works closely with the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), which has been delegated the authority to chair the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) that oversees the disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) system in the Philippines.
The clusters have a strong implementation history in the Philippines, where the Government formally instituted the cluster approach in May 2007 with the HCT appointing Cluster Co-Leads that assumed a supporting role to Government Leads. At the sub-national level, the cluster approach was activated in October 2008 for the response to the Government -MILF conflict in Mindanao, supported by MHT Co-Leads. The Cluster Approach was further implemented at the sub-national level in northern Mindanao in response to Tropical Storm Washi. This model is highly decentralized, with Local Government Units (LGUs) having the autonomy to request international aid.
The Government is currently leading eight clusters, supported by the relevant cluster lead agency. At the national level, the clusters are focusing on response preparedness for natural disasters in between emergencies, while in Mindanao the focus is on the protracted conflict.
The most likely scenario for Mindanao in 2012-2013[x] is a continuation of the status quo: the peace negotiations between the Government and MILF are expected to make steady progress, with a possibility of a peace agreement signed in late 2012 or in 2013. The ceasefire will hold, but some parties are dissatisfied, resulting in sporadic armed skirmishes. National and municipal elections will commence in May 2013, with violence expected in traditionally hotspot areas of Mindanao. Land-related, personal and politically motivated disputes will remain prevalent, as will rido violence. The rainy season, coupled with climate change, will result in more flooding and landslides.
The gravity of the overall humanitarian situation will likely remain at the current level, with up to 410,000 civilians requiring emergency relief. These people include those affected by the Government-MILF conflict despite the ceasefire; those affected by election-related violence and rido; and others affected by flooding and landslides. Returnees and home-based people affected by earlier conflicts and natural disasters will continue to need support. The security situation may worsen in some areas to a degree that access to people in need is further hampered.
At the national level, more intense and frequent tropical cyclones will likely cause displacements and infrastructural damage, but there will be fewer casualties due to better preparedness at the community level.[xi] Damage to infrastructure will be more severe, prolonging evacuations. Overall, a timelier, coordinated response to medium-scale emergencies is possible owing to better preparedness by the Government and HCT.
In a worst-case scenario, the Government-MILF peace process may collapse in 2012 or 2013, triggering a large-scale armed conflict that displaces 1.5 million people. Alternatively, or simultaneously, a major earthquake or a super typhoon may strike metro Manila and overwhelm the capacity of the Government and the in-country international humanitarian community to respond.[xii]
[i] For example, US Department of State issued a travel warning for the Philippines on 14 June 2011.
[ii] United Nations University, 2011. WorldRiskReport 2011.
[iii] National Statistics Office, 2007. 2007 Census of Population.
[v] National Economic and Development Authority, 2010. CY 2010 ODA Portfolio Review.
[vi] Financial Tracking Service.
[vii] World Bank and WFP, 2011. A population-based survey (draft).
[viii] There are six administrative regions in Mindanao, subdivided into 26 provinces.
[ix] Inter-Agency Standing Committee Country Team – Philippines Typhoon and Flood Preparedness Plan, February 2008.
[x] Reference to the projections for Mindanao is based on the most-likely and worst-case scenarios developed by humanitarian stakeholders involved in the 2013 HAP process.
[xi] According to Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) forecast.
[xii] Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), March 2004. Earthquake Impact Reduction Study for Metropolitan Manila, Republic of the Philippines, Final Report, Volume 1, Executive Summary.