PH’s own refugees
Who wouldn’t be moved at the sight of women, children and the elderly in the stream of refugees taking the ultimate risk, defying death itself in rickety boats or in enclosed, steaming chicken lorries, making a desperate dash for survival with a blank future in sight and the faintest hope to cling to?
As we write, hundreds of thousands of international refugees continue to scatter out of the Middle East into Europe and elsewhere in the world—more than four million from Syria alone, as of latest estimates. Despite deep-seated reservations among certain governments about giving them shelter (mostly based on the fact that the refugees are Muslim), a wave of compassion has swept entire nations.
European Union members are seeking an agreement to a quota system under which they will host specific numbers of refugees. Volunteers are donating and offering the refugees food and clothing. And no less than Pope Francis has appealed to the 120,000 Catholic parishes and every religious community in Europe to take in at least one refugee family; to show the way, he said, the Vatican will host two.
Filipinos must have felt a sense of vindication when President Aquino announced that the Philippines would give shelter to a limited number of refugees. (“The history is there, the culture is there,” he said, harking back to how the Philippines opened its doors to persecuted Jews in the 1940s and to Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s.) And also a sense of faith, brought to life among Christians by the parable of the “Good Samaritan.” A man had been left by robbers almost dead on the road to Jerusalem. A rabbi and a Levite passed his way, but they ignored him. The third to come by, a Samaritan woman descended from a tribe despised by pure-blooded Jews as “half-breeds,” took pity on him and brought him to an inn to be cared for. After narrating the parable, Jesus asked: Which of the three was the neighbor? (His question was in response to a lawyer’s earlier query, “Who is my neighbor?”)
But most of all, there is the essential humanity that binds all of humankind. It is not in the mind; it is found only in the heart. And it is that part of the heart that drives one to tears of compassion at the sight of defiant people refusing—in the face of the harshest and most cruel tribulations—to give up on their loved ones and their dreams.
But where is this humanity when it comes to the Philippines’ own refugees? They are called internally displaced persons (IDPs), having been driven from their homes by terror and the violence of war. Only this month, about 2,000 Manobo fled their homes in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, after the killing of three of their own, allegedly by paramilitary forces. Sometime in July, hundreds of lumad families left their communities in Davao del Norte and Bukidnon, reportedly fearful of the military presence in their villages.
How many thousands of other families were displaced before them in the 46 years that the insurgency and separatist wars raged? We’re talking not only of the IDPs in Mindanao but also of those in other parts of the country. Their number will likely continue to grow if the armed conflicts that have displaced them will go on.
Concern for them and their conditions has been raised, of their being manipulated, harassed, abused and exploited, even derided for stinking, but only by certain groups who also back their words with concrete assistance.
But what about those who can really do more? On the Lianga incident, the government called for an investigation, but this was to look into the killings that triggered the Manobo’s “exodus.” The Catholic bishops assailed the government, but only for its swift “exoneration” of the militia suspected to be behind the murders. There was hardly a peep about the refugees themselves, and their continuing misery.
The IDPs may be few compared to those from Syria and other countries in crisis. But their plight is no less heartrending: lost homes, lost livelihood, and, most likely, loved ones, too, lost forever.
To the Philippines’ leaders, to those who insist on the battlefield as the most practical approach to a lasting peace, to those who would rather derail the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and to those who have expressed sympathy for the refugees from other shores, where is your heart for our own?
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