Opposition Sen. Chiz Escudero yesterday called for an the immediate truce and the resumption of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to resolve the humanitarian crisis spawned by the decades-long conflict in Mindanao.
"It's almost a year now since the peace talks collapsed. Today some 600,000 remain in evacuation centers or have fled to safer places to avoid being caught in the seemingly endless cycle of violence in central Mindanao," he said.
Escudero, chair of the Senate human rights committee, said that instead of harvesting peace, the nation has been tagged as having the "biggest displacement in the world" by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.
"Rather than continue putting up temporary evacuation shelters and relying on the Red Cross and World Food Program for food handouts, government should hold its fire and resume peace talks now with the influential clans, indigenous people living in the conflict zones as well as the MILF," Escudero said.
In 2008, refugees in Mindanao made up the biggest group of internally displaced people which totaled 4.6 million worldwide, surpassing even those in war-torn countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
At the height of hostilities last year, more than 8,000 families, or almost 50,000 persons, fled from their homes in Maguindanao alone, one of five provinces making up the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), where fighting was heaviest.
"How much longer is government going to stand by while refugees suffer from unemployment and disease, lack of food and medicine, and the education of children in the region is delayed? Such insensitivity is appalling while the President goes globetrotting!" he said.
Escudero said that if the vision of Mindanao being the land of promise is to be realized, the basic needs of its population should first be met.
"Before progress and prosperity can be felt, there must be peace. And the first thing government must do is to go back to the negotiating table," he said.