(Second of a Three-Part Series)

As Ramadan comes to an end, residents of Metro Manila are taking advantage of this public holiday. Many are likely dozing off in a cool afternoon, oblivious to the moderate rain showers. But miles away in Southern Philippines, residents especially Muslims have no reason to celebrate nor take a break. In fact, the Eid ul-Fitr is an ominous day, signaling the return of intense fighting between the military and the rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

With the war dragging on to its second month, women have more and more reasons to fear of hunger, suffering, and loss. Last 22 September 2008, Tarhata Khadil gave birth to her 11th child without the help of a doctor or a midwife. As she could hardly produce breast milk, she was forced to feed her newborn with powdered milk. Three days later, Kabiba Mohamad found her two children bleeding as they were caught in the crossfires. Now, she is constant search for money to buy Mefanemic acid.

These are just two of the many women who have been facing difficulties because they are rural, poor, Muslim, women and mothers.

As Fairudz Rose Ibrahim Ebus, executive director of Mindanao Tulong Bakwet (MTB) described, “Women have been experiencing difficulties in evacuation centres. Some were undergoing emotional stress as they lost members of their family due to crossfires or indiscriminate aerial bombings. Some died in evacuation centres due to illness.”

Raisa Jajurie of the lawyers group, Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN) added, “It is already difficult that they are poor and located in rural areas, what more when you place them in an evacuation centre with the same burden of performing their reproductive function?”

MTB is a local non-government organisation that has been documenting various human rights violations, especially against women and children brought about by the ongoing armed conflicts in the city of Shariff Kabunsan and other areas of Maguindanao. It is among the local groups which have penetrated affected areas “at their own risk.” Similarly, SALIGAN continues to provides legal support for farmers, fisherfolk, women and other communities in Mindanao.

A few weeks ago, the military has been criticised for allegedly restricting the flow of relief goods in affected areas, especially those with big communities of Muslim or to what the military called “unrecognised” evacuation centres. According to Jajurie, it came to a one point that Lanao del Norte province only had three recognised evacuation centres, with the rest being isolated by the military from any form of assistance. Jajurie shared that on certain instances, the military would claim that there are no evacuation centres in the area, even as needy IDPs are congregating in safer places.

Although it has not witnessed a food blockade, MTB has long observed the shortage of food, medicine, and mats as well as the inadequate water and sanitation facilities in the evacuation centres. Relief goods are also quite basic that much of the supplies come in the form of rice while viands are a rarity. Moreover, the special needs of pregnant and menstruating women and girls have not been taken into account, given the lack of sanitary napkins and separate toilets.

The presence of the military in some evacuation centres have made people, especially women more insecure. Tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities are also intensifying that most Muslims are more keen to stay at evacuation centres while non-Muslims are more confident to briefly return to their communities so as to check their houses and even harvest the fields. “Moro IDPs in areas of North Cotabato have observed changes on the treatment of their non-Muslim neighbours towards them,”shared Ebus, who also leads the Mindanao Emergency Response Network.

With very uncertain days ahead, Khadil is considering of handing her baby to her cousin. Meanwhile, Mohamad remains in debt, but continue to tap relatives and friends for some more Mefanemic acid tablets. Although they are becoming used to the cracking riffles and thunderous rocket launchers, they can hardly be oblivious to the panic and pain around them.

Interview with Fairudz Rose Ibrahim Ebus (September 29, 2008)

Interview with Raissa Jajurie (September 10, 2008)

Maitem, Jeoffrey and Grace Cantal-Albasin (September 4, 2008). “Aid agencies accuse military of mounting food blockades.” URL: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20080904-158568/ Aid-agencies-accuse-military-of-mounting-food-blockades

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