MANILA — The following is abridged from an appeal issued on April 10 by Erwin M. Gaerlan, executive director of the Moro Human Rights Center.
The MHRC has been initiating activities to help put a stop to the worsening war situation in Mindanao between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The war situation intensified at the beginning of this year and has worsened since the middle of March after President Joseph Estrada (on the occasion of his visit to the AFP troops in the field) declared an "all out war" against the MILF. This statement was consistent with his warning at the end of last year that he will end the peace talks between the government and the MILF.
War is still raging in Lanao del Norte with 11 AFP battalions (Marines and elite Scout Rangers) circling the MILF's Camp Bilal. This has caused the dislocation of almost 20,000 civilians (Muslims and Christians) who have been uprooted from their lands and livelihood, causing severe economic hardships and psycho-social problems, especially among the children and women.
Hundreds have been killed, most of them civilians. Not to mention the devastating effects on the environment due to heavy artillery and plane bombings.
But most alarming is that the situation has created the deepening rift and antagonism between and among the Muslims and Christians. There have been cases of burning of the Christian and Muslim houses.
We have gathered data that the AFP has activated the Christian fanatic groups (the Ilagas or now the Christian Liberation Army). Some of the Moro or Muslims have also started to form equivalent groups, not to mention the extremist group, the Abu Sayyaf.
This has been going on while the government and the MILF are talking peace.
We are initiating fora, fact-finding missions, relief and medical missions to the most affected places (Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur, including the cities of Marawi and Iligan).
The government has reached-out to only around 30% of the evacuees. There have been difficulties in sharing relief services with the Muslim evacuees because they do not go to the official designated places like schools and gymnasiums because the Christian evacuees usually occupy them. And they do not feel safe there. They usually stay with their relatives in not so affected areas, but these relatives are usually in miserable condition also.
We are appealing for your solidarity. Specifically, please write to the Philippines president asking him to pull the AFP out of the Moro areas and to conduct genuine peace talks with the MILF. Military operations are not the way to solve the Moro problem in Mindanao.
Please also send financial donations to the MHRC savings account: #0941000584, Plantersbank Planters Development Bank, PhilAm, EDSA, Quezon City, Philippines.