In its August 3, 2017 episode, Bangsamoro Ngayon, Tinig ng Kapayapaan (Bangsamoro Today, Voice of Peace) – a weekly radio program run by KuMuNet in cooperation with the Cotabato office of the Forum Civil Peace Service – had the opportunity to interview Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, head of Ranaw Rescue Team (RRT) and a former member of the expanded BTC under the Duterte administration.
Here is an excerpt from the said interview by KuMuNet's Sophia Paguital aired over DXMS, a member of Notre Dame Broadcasting Corp. (NDBC) based in Cotabato City:
Sophia Paguital (SP): Can you briefly explain what is RRT, its aim and mandate?
Samira Gutoc-Tomawis (SGT): RRT is an aggrupation of some individuals, civil society, government executives and private sector undertaking several activities to address the Marawi crisis such as legal mission, relief, rescue and provision of legal assistance to the almost half million civilians displaced as a result of the May 23 Marawi siege. It is also involved in human rights monitoring together with the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) and Ranaw Watch plus other activities for the evacuees.
SP: Can you please brief us or give us latest updates on the current situation of the IDPs? What are the main issues afflicting them?
SGT: The delay in the cash assistance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is still a big issue. Data cards have been a continuing process of application and reconciliation processes are still being made by the DSWD-ARMM or DSWD-National. Many home-based IDPs have not yet been reached out for food assistance and relief services especially in the 1st District of Lanao del Sur; there is food scarcity there, particularly in Basak, a formerly rice-producing area. Travel time from there to Iligan City takes 5-6 hours and travel cost is around PhP 500. Thus it is so expensive for people there to enrol their students in Iligan instead of in the municipalities. There is a lot of burden in car passes when one travels to Marawi to process papers in the Capitol or Mindanao State University. (MSU); you have to renew every 7 days. It is so burdensome!
SP: Had there been assistance from the government, particularly from the ARMM?
SGT: The ARMM has already invested a lot in relief assistance in Region10. But we are talking here of half a million people all over the country, majority of which are in Iligan City. And there's more in the 1st and 2ndDistrict of Lanao del Sur which need to be reached out, but we have problems in securing safety passes or convoi permits and the length of time to reach those areas is really very long.
SP: Do you mean there are more IDPs in Iligan City and they are home-based?
SGT: Iligan City home-based IDPs are the majority outside of Lanao Sur, but Lanao del Sur municipalities, according to NDRCC figures are much bigger. During our civil society meeting, we have agreed to demand from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for the opening of an access route to Basak area to facilitate delivery of food and relief items as passing through Marawi City is still being prohibited. There is an alternative and shorter route. We are talking of only 2 barangays here and according to the AFP, the fighting will be over soon.
SP: Any update on the situation of the civilian hostages?
SGT: We hope that the hostages are unharmed and Fr Chito Suganob (a catholic priest) is still alive. We are expecting too the release of some hostages including that of a lady professor from Dansalan or a certain College in Marawi.
SP: How do you look at the declaration of martial law for 2 months in Mindanao and its further extension till end of 2017?
SGT: Since Day 3 of the Marawi crisis and during the recent congressional hearing on the extension of martial law last July 22, we have been very strong in appealing for an end to aerial strikes; but it is difficult due to martial law. We asked that it (martial law) be substituted instead by a stronger law enforcement, such as more personnel, technology and intillegence funding to the Philippine National Police (PNP) to help quell the anti-government forces.
Martial law, according to a Quezon City congressman, is “too extra-ordinary” to go against a small group of men --- 200 to 300, and now only 60 against 5,000- 10,000 AFP forces.
SP: Can you elaborate more on the problem with DSWD-issued DFAC cards? Have they been released already?
SGT: Yes, of course and you can verify it with ARMM Vice Governor Haroun Rashid Lucman. There had been some who claimed even though they were not real evacuees; thus the need to reconcile and temporarily stop the release. We have to encode all the data. The DILG of Lanao del Sur also had a hard time specifying which proper identification cards are to be used by claimants as many don't have DFAC cards. It took a time for this kind of process to happen during the 2nd or 3rd week of crisis.
SP: I just want some clarifications. Is Region 10 the one responsible for the Iligan-based IDPs?
SGT: There had been a turn-over 10 days or more than a week ago from Region 10 to ARMM in terms of funding and jurisdiction. But maybe we should have asked the ARMM what has been actually transferred.
SP: What is happening lately to the series of meetings for Marawi rehabilitation plan?
SGT: The national agencies are clustered in the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) – the Office of Civil Defense, DepEd, including the CSOs. It has been meeting regularly in Iligan City. For rehabilitation efforts, NEOC has been transformed into Task Force Bangon per Executive Order and it is chaired by DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. During our several meetings, we in civil society have been pushing for a culture-sensitive rehabilitation. Tent City Alternative Shelters, for example, should not be too open. So far, Maranaos women are having problems in open air evacuation centers. There has to be consideration in cultural protection.
SP: But are these shelters to be put up by the goverment okay for our IDPs?
SGT: Three Maranao cabinet secretaries – Jing Mamodiong of TESDA, Abulkhayr Alonto of MDA and Abdullah Mamao -- have been meeting regularly about this issue. Tomorrow will be their 2nd meeting with all Maranao leaders on this issues: the aborted return of Maranao IDPs to Marawi City and various issues concerning Maranao grievances. We still have to ask the acceptability of these tent cities despite the basic need for shelter. Thus we support Marawi mayor Gandambra in setting up alternative shelters for the people. We are concerned about open-air tents as those in Iligan. Maybe a tent for each family would be better.
SP: Have there been reported human rights violations commited on the IDPs?
SGT: On both sides. The Mautes have been seen on photos in private residences of civilians. The AFP men too inside private residences with lots of chaos and destruction; and there had been alleged lootings and lost of properties. Thus we are calling on the AFP, especially its Human Rights and Legal Assistance Desks , that legal asistance should be provided if they are arresting somebody even if he is suspected as a member of Maute; it is mandatory in our laws.
SP: Let us shift to another topic. As a former member of expanded BTC, how do you look at the newly crafted BBL?
SGT: I had been part of different drafting committees in the expanded BTC, particularly on Economy, Education, Rights. The commissions are more defined this time – human rights, women, youth halal industry development. We saw to it that issues related to women, culture and youth are properly addressed. We also demanded parliamentary recognition, i.e., that the parliament has to pass laws on halal, Islamic finance, etc. The new BBL has directed the parliament to pay attention to these important legislations. Regarding the so-called cutting off of hands feared by many Congressmen as a main feature of the new Bangsamoro muslim governement, we would like to make it clear that the new BBL is more inclusive as it recognizes three kinds of laws in the Bangsamoro: 1. for Christians minority which is Philippine laws; 2. for the Indigenous Peoples and their socio-cultural systems, and 3. for the Bangsamoro and their Maranao or Bangsamoro shariah system. It was not stated that there will be a penal system on cutting of hands; thre is a recognition that the Constitution prohibits this punishment and it is recognized under justice/security position in the committee chaired by lawyer Firdausi Abbas. I am happy with the new BBL – it is more inclusive, participatory for IPs especially for their elders, cultural systems and conflict resolution. I am also happy with the inclusion of a youth representative in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), a transitional structure before the formal establishment of the Bangsamoro government.
SP: But do you personally think that this new BBL will not be anymore amended or replaced by another bill during its deliberation in Congress?
SGT: Of course, we expect that there will always be questions particularly on the police force, court systems and a controversy on the contigous territory. Or they may ask: Why we rather just improve instead of abolishing the present ARMM? That is why we need a new Bangsamoro that will decentralize what has not been realized as an experiment in the ARMM. It is the reason why Nur Misuari rejected the ARMM law. That is why we have to strengthen the autonomy and we are calling for more decentralization for Bangsamoro through much localized mechanisms. Let us take NAPOLCOM as an example wherein the governor or the parliament has the power to identify his police superentindent. It is not there in the present ARMM governor now, a clear example that it lacks power over peace and order. They even recently pulled out the power of the mayor over the police. To have a stronger government, you really ought to have the power over the security forces and the head of government should be influencial enough.
SP: Is it clearer or more specific in the new BBL?
SGT: On matters of security, economy, resources or control over natural resources, I would say yes.
SP: So do we expect the Congress to only raise minimal issues on the new BBL this time compared to before?
SGT: Yes. Because before, it was the end of term of the previous president and we have had several difficulties in lobbying. Now, we are just through with the first year of the new regime and we are hoping that he (Duterte) has the confidence to push it.
SP: What is the position of the Ranaw Rescue Team vis-a-vis the Marawi crisis?
SGT: We just continue with our services, especially with our relief distribution; there is no political campaign. We are also trying our best for inclusion of CSOs in all clusters in Task Force Bangon which include housing, health, etc.
SP: Do you have some important message, especially to our listeners? We are heard over North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawitawi.
SGT: We are asking our president to please strengthen the recognition of local conflict resolution mechanisms instead of only relying on martial law. This means that the Maranaos must be capacitated – in their police force, sultans and datus. It is unlike under the Arroyo administration where there was a recognition through an Executive Order. So we are calling on the president to recognize traditional Maranao conflict resolution systems to help resolve this Marawi crisis. Thank you so much!