Phenomenal indeed as in the previous years, the internally displaced persons took center stage once again in year 2003. An emergency situation erupted in the first quarter of the year in the southern part of the Philippines. This was the result of a series of armed confrontation between the government military forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that led to yet another mass exodus of 415,233 persons or 82,012 families.
A team of Balay staff and partners from human rights organizations went to different jails in Luzon and Mindanao to check on the conditions of political prisoners and to provide immediate relief to the inmates. From October to December, the team was able to meet 73 detainees in 14 detention centers in Luzon. In Mindanao, they were able to visit 10 detention centers where 42 alleged political dissenters are being kept in Regions 11 and 12.
Young People represent a significant number of civilians affected by exposure to armed conflict. Citing a report of the UNICEF, the Global IDP Project has placed the number of displaced persons below 18 years old in Mindanao at 30,000 every year between 1988 and 1998. A survey conducted by BALAY in evacuation centers in Pikit, North Cotabato showed that 43 percent of those staying in temporary shelters following the military operations in the so-called Buliok complex in February 2003 are youth and children. The absolute number of children caught in situation of violence is likely to grow unless the guns will be silenced, permanently.
Youth and children are affected in different ways by armed conflict. The threats which they face are directly related to their vulnerability as young people. For example, they may suffer greater psychological consequences with the disruption of their protective factors due to the loss of security provided by their homes and their separation from their familiar environment, such as their neighborhood and school. Yet, it is seldom that they are encouraged to speak out on what they think and feel about it. Moreover, they are rarely asked abut their views on how the seemingly endless cycle of violence can be avoided, if not minimized.
The town of Damulog is situated in the hinterland boundaries of North Cotabato and Bukidnon. It is the only municipality in Bukidnon where five barangays were abandoned by their residents to seek refuge in evacuation centers at the height of the government offensives against suspected rebels and criminal groups last year. The villagers returned to their communities five months later, following the truce declared by the military forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in July 2003.