The Bakwit

Posted on 2017/06/27

It resembles of an emerging conflict zone. Video clips and still images streaming on social media, early morning martial law was declared all over Mindanao, have vividly captured the onset of heart rending story as it followed the residents of Marawi city while leaving en masse to avoid the escalating tension between government forces and members of the ISIS-linked Maute group. As they left in droves, people traveling on foot and those with vehicles brought the traffic to standstill as the main exit route become heavily congested. Hungry and exhausted after more than five hours of slow-moving journey, the fleeing residents from more than 90 barangays in Marawi and in nearby towns of Lanao del Sur have finally reached their destination - either in the government- designated centers or with their relatives - uncertain what future awaited for them. Forced to leave from the conflict zone, these people have added to the growing number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) or “Bakwit” in Mindanao.

Endemic in most developing countries with weak democratic institutions, the IDPs are an outgrowth of sectarian violence and of natural disasters. While the causes of IDPs are sure pathways to human extinction, much of the global media hype is focused on displacement due to armed conflict - whether in the troubled areas of Middle East and North Africa or in Mindanao of southern Philippines – due largely to its nature of inhumane destruction that is humanly possible of prevention. Data of the United Nations Population Fund say that in 2015 close to 244 million people were living outside their country of origin; the highest global displacement since world war II, with 15.1 million refugees recorded in the middle 2015 alone. Now in its fifth year of internal strife, Syria displaced around 8.6 million of its citizens in 2016, becoming the world’s leading country with the most number of evacuees. Globally, internal displacement within the country’s border recorded 38 million people at the end of 2014, according to International Migration Office.

Throughout the history of Mindanao war, Bakwit are considered natural fixtures in the region that become a magnet for local and international humanitarian agencies despite the country’s international treaty obligations and national legislation to insulate the Bakwit from ill-effects of internal strife. Since 2000, when all-out war was declared by then President “Erap” Estrada against Muslim rebels, more than four million residents have been displaced due to conflict, according to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Most of them have experienced not just once but waves of dislocation from their restive communities. Detached from their permanent place of abode and source of livelihood, many of the Bakwit have endured the ignominy of living in temporary shelter facilities where everybody has to line up every day to receive food packs from multiple donors. While many in the mainstream blame political violence, between government and militant groups, as the usual culprit of displacement, little attention is focused on two other equally disturbing instigators of IDPs: “Rido” or clan conflict, and the shadow economy. Comprehensive data from International Alert show that “Rido” is pervasive in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao whereas conflicts arising from shadow economy are taking place across the region.

Like most IDPs in Mindanao, the Marawi Bakwit estimated to be around 16,000 at government-designated shelter sites are living in despondency even if they are already outside the lethal range of stray bullets. All the displaced have to endure the cramped condition at evacuation sites, a major reason why disease outbreak is not easy to contain. According to latest report, 17 Bakwit from Marawi/Lanao del Sur have died at temporary sites. Local health authorities are now alarmed of reported contagious diseases associated with unsanitary and congested facilities for Bakwit. Limited space at evacuation center pushes privacy issue aside; providing additional strain on women and girls already reeling from traumatic experience. While most classes for basic education have already started, schools in Marawi are unavailable to students because most of the structures and buildings are either leveled to the ground or rendered unfit for learning instructions. For Muslims, the occurrence of conflict at the height of Ramadhan posed tremendous hardships not only to perform their spiritual obligation but also to their traditional gift giving to the less fortunate.

Buoyed by the outcome of martial law, government claims that more than 90 per cent of the areas formerly occupied by Maute are now under government control. This is good news to Bakwit, but not an assurance that they can now go back to Marawi safely since the removal of debris that littered the streets as well as potential booby traps is a risky and humongous undertaking. Rebuilding Marawi city from the ruins is certainly a tall order that requires the support of all government agencies and the private sector. While outside support is vital, the future of Marawi rests largely on the shoulders of its residents and leaders who will make the collective decision for the common good. For real change to take place, people in Marawi should focus on institutional reforms, and revisit the negative attributes of the city made by many, prior to the conflict, perceived or real. Republic Act No. 7610, says “...during armed conflict, evacuation of children should be given priority... and chairman of the barangay...shall submit the names of children to the Municipal social welfare within 24 hours from the occurrence of conflict..” Was this followed before tension intensified in Marawi? Not too long ago, a person accused of illegal drugs was brought to Camp Ranao, a military camp, to undergo the process of prosecution because the police were believed to be in cahoots with drug syndicates. Has anyone noticed of social media posts, months prior to siege, from Marawi residents complaining about the years-old garbage problem in the city? Or the routine black out and the absence of potable water, again before the siege, when the city is home to the biggest lake in Mindanao?

No civilized society would want a portion of its population to suffer from the indignities at temporary houses,no matter how transient. The plight of IDPs should serve as wake up call to local officials and traditional leaders in Marawi that change must come from within, including culture, if necessary. To all Muslims who celebrate the end of Ramadan, Eid Mubarak!


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Liceo Legal Aid Center (LiLAC) doing business under the name and style of Center for Alternative Lawyering of Liceo is the legal aid center of Liceo de Cagayan University, a privately owned university based in Cagayan de oro City. The group is composed of law students, alumni of the College of Law of the University, and lawyers who are passionate in the practice of alternative lawyering. LiLAC is guided by its vision of a holistic formation of law students committed to the transformation of society by promoting justice, empowerment, unity and peace, through helping the marginalized sector of the depressed areas here in Mindanao, in the Philippines and in the world. While the group was registered only this year with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it has been providing services to marginalized communities in partnership with NGOs for more than 8 years now. LiLAC has more than 50 members, 15 of whom are taking the active role of running the groups activities.

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The Mindanao State University Legal Aid Clinic or Mindanao SULAC for brevity, is the Legal Aid Clinic of Mindanao State University College of law. It is the first and currently the only one of its kind to be established in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It strives to cater the legal needs of the underprivileged and/or indigent clients of the Region and to help promote the proper administration of justice as a key to lasting peace in the region and in the country as a whole.

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The University of Mindanao Legal Aid Network (ULAN) is a non-stock, non-profit, and service institution of the University of Mindanao. As a service institution, it provides legal assistance, advocates human rights and social justice, and facilitates the formation of law students for alternative lawyering. It consists of law students and alumni of the College of Legal Education of the University of Mindanao committed to provide an adequate and greater access to justice of the community through its programs.


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