Bakwit, HR advocates gather for nat’l confab on internal refugees

Some 150 human rights advocates, religious,church people and bakwit, or internal refugees or internally displaced persons (IDP) from Visayas and Mindanao, will gather at the National Conference on Internally Displaced Persons or Internal Refugees on April 23-24 at Jansenn Hall, Christ the King Seminary.

Bakwit is a colloquial Filipino term from the English word “evacuate,” pertaining to victims of forced evacuation.

Led by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), KARAPATAN (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) and the Ecumenical Mission for Peace and Development (EMPD), the IDP Conference is a response to the growing number of internally displaced persons in areas where there is intensified militarization.

According to Karapatan, there are a total number of 6,556 victims of forced evacuation under the Aquino administration’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.

“Violation to the right to domicile is not the only violation experienced by internally displaced persons. When they are forced to leave their homes, they lose their livelihood because they abandon the land they till. Children’s schools and places of religious worship are also converted into military camps, thereby violating their right to education and right to freedom of woship,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan spokesperson and End Impunity Alliance convenor.

Karapatan documentation revealed that recent cases include the forced evacuation of 158 families, or at least 800 individuals including children in Ansili and Maribuhok in Sitio Zapanta and Manhumapay, all in Kitcharao; as well as in Stio Lusong, Brgy. Puting Bato, Cabadbaran City, both in Agusan del Norte.

Majority of those affected come from the Mamanwa tribe, an indigenous people group in the CARAGA region.  Some other 300 individuals, meanwhile, are still in an evacuation center in Butuan City.

Internal refugees will share their stories in the conference, including the threats and harassment they experienced in the hands of the military.

Among the delegates is Maricel Salem, a volunteer teacher at the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (Clans) located in Upper Suyan, Malapatan, Sarangani Province, an alternative school which gone on and off in its operations because of threats, harassment and intimidation to children, their parents and the Lumad in the community.

Sharon Liguyon, wife of slain indigenous people leader Jimmy Liguyon will also attend the conference. Jimmy, who was killed in March 5 2012 inside his residence in San Fernando, Bukidnon, is an active opponent to the entry of large-scale mining in the area. Their community has been heavily militarized since. ###