Re-articulating migration, environment, peace and development in Mindanao: Part I

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By Mags Z. Maglana

The Point Being

Friday, August 8, 2014

DON’T look now but everyone knows one in Mindanao -- a migrant I mean. And by migrants I mean not just those who go abroad, thus participating in what is known as international migration, but also those who move within the territory or what is called internal migration.

International migration includes as a subset international labor migration referring to the practice of seeking employment outside of one’s country. Internal migration in Mindanao has taken on more prominence of late because of forced migration or displacement owing to factors related to the environment, to peace or stability, and development.

Just in the past 15 years alone Mindanao reeled from a series of conflicts that triggered displacements. There were the armed encounters involving State forces, the Bangsamoro forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and fringe elements in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2012, and the 2013 siege of Zamboanga. It came to a point that according to Mindanews quoting the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the number of Mindanao IDPs in August 2008 (600,000 at its peak figure) topped the list of massive new displacements around the world. Too, there were the counter-insurgency operations against the New Peoples’ Army.


Add displacement from natural calamities, then the figures balloon all the more. Contrary to pulp fiction written for economic ends, Mindanao has never been “typhoon-free”. In the past century, this part of the country was also visited by significant weather disturbances, not to mention geological ones. Admittedly though, not with the frequency and intensity with which Mindanawons experienced Sendong/Washi that hit Northern Mindanao areas in 2011, super typhoon Pablo/Bopha that hit Davao Oriental, Surigao del Sur, Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur, and Bukidnon in 2012, Yolanda/Haiyan which also affected some areas Northern Mindanao areas in 2013, and Agaton which visited in Caraga areas in 2014.

Pablo/Bopha alone affected around 6.2 million people; and since around 216,000 houses were reported damaged it can be assumed that a significant number of the total population of people affected was at one point temporarily displaced. If the climatological conditions shift the other way, eight Mindanao provinces and two cities are among the list of moderately to highly vulnerable to El Niño according to the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).

The list of the forcibly displaced – sometimes referred to as internally displaced persons or IDPs -- does not just cover environmental or conflict displacees, they can also include development displacees or those who were affected by initiatives that are presented as beneficial to economic growth such as infrastructure projects and extractive industries, among others. The case of the 1,300 Manobos from Talaingod, Davao del Norte who fled the Pantaron Range in early 2014 is a case in point. The Salugpungan ’Ta Igkanugon (Pagkakaisa sa Pagtatanggol ng Lupang Ninuno) charged that the military operations that triggered their evacuation were part of a larger scheme that privileges big loggers, agricultural plantation and mining firms that have been eyeing the Pantaron Range, a vital biodiversity area in Mindanao.

By MinDA’s own records-keeping at least 8,000,000 Mindanawons were displaced by for different reasons from 2012 to 2014.

And then there’s international labor migration, and its related ills, human trafficking and illegal recruitment.

It probably is safe to say that every Mindanawon knows someone who has worked abroad, is applying, or is related in some degree to somebody who has worked abroad or is applying. There are around 11 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in 202 countries today, that means more than 10 percent of our total population are migrants. And we continue to deploy 5,000 OFWs every day, of which 70 percent are women. It is estimated that 16.7 percent of OFWs are from Mindanao. Among the issues that attend international labor migration are abandonment of migrant families, increasing incidence of sexual and economic abuse of migrant women, and gender violence inflicted on members of OFW families including children.

The United States’ Trafficking in Persons (TIP) global report gave recognition to the efforts of the Philippine government to address human trafficking; however that the number of convictions remained low was also noted. Mindanews reported that of 132 trafficked victims, rescued by the Sea-based Anti-Trafficking Task Force (SBATTF) on two occasions in Zamboanga, one batch of 59 victims came from the Davao region and Zamboanga Peninsula and were bound for Malaysia. There were 31 men, 17 women and 11 children in that group. The others came from the Visayas and had been lured by promises of jobs in deep-sea fishing and dried fish production. The TIP report also pointed out the risk of re-victimization given absent or inadequate rehabilitation services for victims.

That these different facets of migration challenges – increasing incidence of international migration, and the problems of human trafficking and illegal recruitment, and forced migration on the upswing -- exist in Mindanao can no longer be disputed. But what needs to be understood better is that rather than being mere differentiated categories of challenges attended to by specific agencies, they are interacting in very essential ways in Mindanao.

This was a key point that the Mindanao Migrants Center for Empowering Actions, Inc. (MMCEAI) wanted to put forward during the August 7, 2014 Mindanao Summit on Environment, Peace and Development.

In a framework gleaned from consultations with multi-stakeholders and a review of available literature, MMCEAI reported that migration officials noted a relative increase in international labor migration and also internal migration in times of conflict and calamities.

Displacement and human insecurity further create situations that are ripe for the activities of traffickers and smugglers. Unscrupulous parties target communities displaced by emergencies at different stages during their displacement. An MMCEAI study of those displaced by conflicts and who had been approached by recruiters recorded the incidence of actual recruitment in evacuation areas at 30 percent of respondents, while outside the camps it was at 35 percent of respondents, and upon return to their communities at 35 percent. Recruiters targeted young women (72 percent) and children (22 percent) aged 9 to 17 years old. MMCEAI also documented cases of prostitution involving 13 and 15-year old youths in Pablo-affected communities.

Sometimes victims of illegal and their families find themselves colluding by submitting falsified documents to expedite departure. This is compounded further by the problem of loss of official documents; the Local Civil Registrars of six towns in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley reported that about 75 percent of documents had been lost to Pablo's force.

Acknowledging that the migration challenges are intertwined means that duty-holders like government bodies should include migration protective services, measures and mechanisms whenever displacements happen, anticipating the surge in interest in migration (internal and international alike), and the threats of human trafficking and illegal recruitment.

It means recognizing that victims of one form of displacement could be in danger of being affected by other forms. Those that were displaced in the Zamboanga 2013 siege were also reportedly affected by flooding.

It means taking the long view and acknowledging that the conditions of social inequity, the poor state of the built-up environment, the polluted and depleted state of the natural environment, and the inadequacy of governance policies, processes and mechanism are the same drivers that push people to leave their communities and go elsewhere whether in the Philippines or outside, that limit their choices to those that leave them vulnerable to extreme forces of nature, and that which trigger contestations and violent conflicts.

And finally it means acknowledging that in all these Mindanawons can not be reduced to being only victims or vulnerable persons. But we are also resources for change, resilience and adaptation.

More next week.

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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 09, 2014.


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