About a hundred tribal children who sought sanctuary in Manila to escape the conflict in their villages are stuck in the Philippine capital amid the lockdown against the new coronavirus.
A non-government group, that has been helping the displaced children, has expressed fear that the lockdown puts its resources and food “in peril.”
“We don’t receive any attention from the government and the implementation of the quarantine hinders us to look for our own resources,” said Rius Valle of the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network.
The children have sought shelter in the University of the Philippines campus since August 2019 to call the attention of authorities in the capital on the situation in conflict areas.
The tribal children left their homes in the mountain villages of Mindanao after tribal schools were closed due to military operations against alleged communist rebels in the area.
“We are left helpless in Metro Manila,” said Valle. “We cannot go back to our communities because of the pandemic and the continuing military occupation in tribal villages,” he said.
The SOS Network and university officials have imposed a “no visitor policy” at the area where the children are staying to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
Valle, however, said the so-called social distancing is “almost impossible” in refugee camps “because the situation and location are preventing us to do so.”
“We are taking this health crisis seriously,” he said. “But without a comprehensive and inclusive government plan, we will die of either hunger or sickness,” Valle added.
Medical supplies, such as medicines, alcohol, disinfectants, and face masks are scarce in refugee centers, including where the children are.
Aya Santos, public information officer of the group Sandugo, said the displaced children are already suffering in a “multiple layer of new normal” situations.
“Displacement has become normal to them because of social injustice. Then life inside an evacuation camp and moving from one sanctuary to another are also new normals for them,” said Santos.
She called on the government to prioritize the delivery of aid to vulnerable sectors, including the indigenous people who have been displaced because of the armed conflict.
Sandugo has documented 16,866 displaced indigenous people in the country since 2016.
The group reported that at least 90 tribal schools have been closed, affecting more than 5,000 tribal children.
The communist guerrillas also announced that they would observe a ceasefire in compliance with the call of the United Nations for a global halt in armed clashes during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Philippine government launched peace talks with the rebels when Duterte took office in mid-2016.
Peace negotiations, however, bogged down with both sides accusing the other of continuing to carry out attacks.