ICRC girds for more fighting in Mindanao after the Ramadan

ICRC head of delegation Felipe Donoso, ICRC deputy director for operations Dominik Stillhart, FOCAP president Jason Gutierrez

From left: ICRC head of delegation Felipe Donoso, ICRC deputy director for operations Dominik Stillhart, FOCAP president Jason Gutierrez

Unsure of what will happen after Ramadan, the International Committee of the Red Cross is preparing for the worst – which means more and heavier fighting. The ICRC will ask for an additional $4 million to $5 million with which to help evacuees in Mindanao for the rest of this year, said ICRC deputy director for operations Dominik Stillhart in a briefing for FOCAP.
Between now and the end of the year, Stillhart said, they intend to “provide assistance” to some 80,000 people every month.
“We have the impression we need to be prepared for more hardship, more suffering. We just need to be prepared for whatever may come. We cannot speculate on whatever is going to be happening after the end of Ramadan… but we better be prepared,” he said. Read on for more quotes.

Again, these are not exact quotes. Readers beware.
Stillhart: most of the people had returned home…some 40,000 people remained displaced in their homes. opportunity to visit 2 evacuation centers in surrounding areas of cotabato. what we saw on friday when the rain was pouring down was…situation was extremely difficult. what we found was clearly very difficult situation…little shelter they had…icrc brought plastic sheeting…not necessarily a very comfortable situation. in terms of icrc operation, the icrc has had a very long standing presence in phils and in mindanao particular…26 years, present and working for victims of conflict in mindanao…we are working with the phil national red cross which is our main partner in our humanitarian endeavor…allowed icrc to immediately step up situation and response to humanitarian situation…delivered shelter materials, essential household items, hygienic kits, water and sanitation…mainly of course in area of central mindanao and north and south. given our mandate to promote….particularly concerned over allegations of attacks on civilians and civilian properties…delegates following up matter and take up with parties concerned in bilateral and confidential dialogue…one important issue is how the situation will be developing and obviously depending very much on what is happening between govt and milf. don’t want to speculate but i can tell you is that we have decided now to maintain reinforce…from mindanao in order to be able to respond to what may still be coming. we have impression we need to be prepared for more hardship, more suffering…between now and the end of year to provide assistance…up to 385,000 people, 80,000 per month. to this effect icrc launching budget extension appeal in geneva in the course of this week in order to be able to respond…

Q&A: budget extension appeal, any figure?
we are still compiling these figures…am not exactly sure what the final figure will be but it will be something like $4-5m.
only for end of year?
that’s exact. we have a budget in this country of $7m for 2008 and we are going to be asking for anywhere between 4-5m$ additional. better to wait for appeal to come out.
not only for budget for also for food, shelter, other materials?
mainly to cover the costs of relief items that we are going to distribute plus additional personnel that we have sent to mindanao.

felipe donoso, head of delegation, icrc: to put in perspective regarding our action in phils…sad routine when it comes to different armed conflict in phils, icrc for last 5 years assisting 100,000 victims of displacement generated by armed conflict as average figure. the figure we are talking today…this is in a couple of weeks we reached almost the same figure that we cover in one year. why necessary to reinforce set up and face any eventuality.
your mechanism to let govt know…dialogue…you also said that you want to maintain a reinforced team in mindanao to prepare for more hardship and war suffering…in those dialogues indication war will go on from official sources?
icrc: we are of course in contact with all different parties to conflict inc govt, milf, and now of course we are in the same position as you, trying to read situation from what we read hear in media and discussions. we observe for the time being clear conflict has subsided since beginning of ramadan but what makes us worry is the violence of that particular conflict since beginning of august…also fact there is uncertainty surrounding the peace process. we just need to be prepared for whatever may come. cannot speculate whatever is going to be happening after end of ramadan. but we better be prepared.
what made it worse than 2003?
the intensity of conflict and scope of humanitarian consequence. in past years we haven’t seen anything to this extent.
peace monitors have helped?
felipe: …additional windows for dialogue to clarify issues particularly mechanism of following up ceasefire, positive bec they are windows of dialogue. by definition they are positive. effectiveness, assessment is not what we are following up and assessing.

how long this war has been going on. icrc has been here for 26 years…how do you distinguish this from any other in the past?
felipe: the situation we have witnessed in the past? i would say it’s often the conflict in the phils often defined as low intensity armed conflict bec means engaged are not of very high intensity during whole year since four decades. but the thing is that makes kind of low profile armed conflict when viewed by international community. but humanitarian consequences. they are high intensity of humanitarian consequences. conflict that last for decades, up and down, with peaks, and there are significant peaks. 2000, 2003….high intensity in terms of engagement, in terms of humanitarian situation. in europe there are some media that qualified conflict as forgotten war, not so difficult, never making the news. but the fact that an org like icrc…assisting 100,000 people in urgent need every year shows the high intensity to fils that they have to face this kind of consequence in decades. low intensity, but very present.
icrc…what’s strong when we visited these evacuation centers…the fact that many of them have been displaced very regularly in past years. spoke to woman who said had to flee fourth time this year alone. compare to other conflicts in the world…very often go back in a few days, most of them…but the frequency of displacement which takes a very heavy toll on people there. one of the reasons for the poverty bec each and every time they are losing belongings and have to go back and start from scratch. that’s really for me something that i’ve never seen anywhere else.

asked milf to stop harassment of food convoys? in our discussions…one of issues is always humanitarian access. but we have ourselves not been facing any serious problems in terms of humanitarian access. there are times when security prevents us from going to certain places but we haven’t had issues ….because our operations are in very transparent manner.

icrc hasn’t had this problem? felipe: usually in an armed conflict there are issues relating to security…first of all our first priority is to make sure we can run operations in security…request to parties to give us security guarantees. mean us to create necessary humanitarian space in order that we can operate. sometimes parties not able to do it…ay not go bec they are in military operation….thankful to be told that…so far could not access all displaced persons in mindanao due to security situation butn ot due to systematic…to access. for the time being we don’t acknowledge situation where we are prevented to access bec one of beligerent would just not like it. what is true today may not be true tomorrow. that is why we are calling on parties to make sure that they warranty at all times humanitarian space for neutral actors.

icrc: the govt here is playing impt role in terms of coordinating and providing humanitarian aid…
felipe: displacement…never enough. children who cannot access school, etc…are we able to cope with basic needs in situation of emergency. govt very present in the spot where the displacement happened at least in the centers, main towns and cities. there are situation that are not covered even by ourselves, related to security, ongoing operations. that is why we are not pretending to be the response. it’s one part of response. we have seen also other actors. world food program providing food…we can say in this context there is this particularly that we don’t see in other countries where there are internal wars. national institution very present in delivery…magnitude of consequence if extended then we are really convinced that icrc should be there as well to bring an additional support to….your govt is present…

any areas not able to get access to bec of fighting? felipe: yes. precisely no but i can tell you…there are many places but i would say the heights of regions of lanao del norte, not the coastal but the inside..you know you don’t move there like this. areas where there are operations ongoing. from these areas where people move out. for us it is important we are doing…in security. that is why we need…necessary guarantees. doesn’t mean bec you don’t have access to area that you are not able to cover the problem when people are displaced from these areas.important to keep clear proximity with displaced…including icrc what are the conditions in those areas. doing also close monitoring…

appeal from un agencies to help icrc and phils? icrc; the way it works is each and every agency and org doing its own appeal. we cannot ask on behalf of un, only on behalf of our operation that we are doing together with pnrc. what we are appealing for is operation we are going to carry out with phil red cross. impt in coordination with what other agencies including govt institutions are doing on ground. in situation of armed conflict icrc is leading agency in intl operations…when we do appeal not only to govt donors but to all national red cross and red crescent societies who are part of icrc….within red cross yes since we are having lead…we are coordinating that…appealing…

worst seen so far? not say worst difficult to compare one context from another. what struck we is fact that unlike many other crises like darfur, where most of displaced left homes in 2003 and remained displaced all these years. people displaced not far from homes and do that frequently. not seen in any other context before. not to say worst i have seen. irrelevant to say better or worse, just difference that struck me here looking at situation and talking to people who are displaced.

icrc give aid when people returned home? felipe: there are programs in communities that helped develop infra. doing last 3 years reinforcing infrastructure of hosting communities. there are clear patterns of displacement in phils…people move, settle in schools, gyms, so what we have been doing is drilling water sources, building latrines, reinforcing different infra to alleviate burden to hosting communities who have to cope in rapid moment massive displacement. there are project aimed to reinforcing infra in communities but you can imagine…when people scatter…difficult for icrc to cover issues related to devt of long term…long term devt but what you have to remember is we are no tin situation where people are displaced…massive problem of health, diseases, hunger….displaced person by receiving additional assistance…also help them to return back home and not arrive empty hand. what they will find…another issue…you can prepare the return of the communities also by providing assistance.

attacks on civilians and destruction of property…any documented cases?
icrc: the way we are working, there are 2 main pillar of operation. one assistance the other one protection, an effort to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. our delegates in field would see whether any provisions had been violated, and take these up in bilateral and confidential dialogue with relevant parties to conflict. that is why even if we had information i would not share with you bec doing in confidential dialogue. that is way icrc is working around the world. one reason also to preserve humanitarian access. speaking out is one thing but we also want to maintain humanitarian access to those who are affected by conflict. ..there are issues and you have seen yourselves reports about civilians being attacked and civilian properties being destroyed…taking up with govt and milf on basis on findings of delegates on ground.

next step? in the end those who have to respect…are parties to conflict. responsibility of parties to ensure respect for intl humanitarian law. up to parties to conflict to make sure relevant provisions are respected by soldiers and fighters and anybody participating in hostilities. if we find there is no effect in terms of better respect for law, we have to think of other means like talking to other stakeholders who could have influence to parties in conflict.

when you go on field to arrange access, how many from your side? the phil red cross our main partner in this humanitarian endeavor…also greatly thanks to this cooperation we had coverage we have today in mindanao…if we didn’t have this partner much more difficult to step up operations and provide amount of humanitarian crisis…


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