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Philippine military in Mindanao creating humanitarian crisis

April 8, 2015 · 

Philippine military in Mindanao creating humanitarian crisis
Civil society network calls for immediate halt to ‘all-out’ attack on Islamic insurgents
Bong Fabe, Cagayan de Oro City
March 23, 2015

Government troops secure a road in the province of Maguindanao during the all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. (Photo by Ferdinandh Cabrera)

 A network of civil society groups and peace advocates said a “humanitarian crisis” has hit several areas of Mindanao as the Philippine military continued this week an “all-out offensive” against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
“We categorically state that a humanitarian crisis is already staring us in the face as an effect of the prolonged military action against lawless elements,” said the All-Out Peace network, an alliance of 20 peace groups in Mindanao.
In a statement released to the media on the weekend, the group called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines to immediately declare a ceasefire in the province of Maguindanao and disclose the progress of the operations.
The group also called on “peace-loving Filipinos” to join in mobilizing relief goods and encourage solidarity “by enabling their voices and stories to be heard”.
The Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao last week said the number of internally displaced persons has already reached 125,302. At least 63 schools have already been affected by the conflict, with 22 already abandoned.
The non-governmental group Balay Mindanaw Foundation on Saturday announced that it is opening Balay Aleosan, a center for humanitarian relief, to civilians displaced by the ongoing conflict.
“It is such situations as this that peace-builders and peace-loving people must exert all efforts to build peace because everyone is looking for peace,” said Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro.
Ledesma has convened Tulay Kalinaw Mindanaw (Mindanao Bridge of Peace), a multi-sectoral civil society group, to help people displaced by the conflict.
Rochelle Mordeno, executive director of Balay Mindanao Foundation, said Balay Aleosan in Aleosan town, North Cotabato province, can be a hub of humanitarian relief operations.
The foundation has been soliciting funds and goods to help displaced civilians since the military operation started four weeks ago.
Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang on Monday announced that ongoing operations in Mindanao will end in June.
In a speech during the Army’s 118th anniversary, Catapang said displaced residents would be allowed to return to their homes soon.
“We will allow them to return and then we will cordon [the area] to prevent the entry of lawless elements and terrorists,” the general said.
Catapang ordered the “all-out offensive” against the BIFF on February 25 in response to rebel attacks and bombings in the provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
“They have turned [Maguindanao] into a terrorist haven and they have turned that place into a [bomb] factory… that’s why we have to sustain the operations,” Catapang said.
The general appealed for patience in getting suspected terrorist bomber Basit Usman and other top rebel leaders, who allegedly have links with the regional terrorist network Jema’ah Islamiyah.
“Patience is a virtue, Catapang said. “We are able to get the people who are providing them safe haven. Their security force is becoming thinner and thinner, and ultimately we will able to catch up on them,” he said.
As of last Sunday, the Philippine military said at least 139 BIFF fighters were killed, 53 were wounded and 12 were arrested during the campaign.end

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