The Tedurays Quest for Peace

Blog post by Diane Lim
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Oxfam and IDEALS conduct Legal Mission to South Upi
Oxfam and IDEALS conduct Legal Mission to South Upi

Barangay Kuya, South Upi is home to the Teduray Tribe, one of the most known Indigenous Peoples in the country. South Upi has vast lands of fertile soil home to healthy animals. Their primary livelihood is farming and their main source of power is solar energy. The Teduray lived peacefully until recently when armed men in black came to claim their land.

It was in 2017 when conflict first errupted in Kuya, which has seven (7) sitios scattered in the mountains and rivers. About more than 50 armed men in black, who wore bonnets and masks to conceal their identities, invaded their homes to steal their lands. These people butchered their livestock, stole crops, and threatened to shoot them. Families were forced to evacuate their homes, leaving their valuable solar-powered belongings and their livestock. These are prizes posesssions that took them years to save up for and are very crucial to their daily lives.

The Tedurays have been in and out of evacuation centers since then. While some chose to seek shelter from relatives in neighboring barangays or sitios, displacements are becoming more frequent. They evacuate at least twice every year; each time can last from days to a few months before they can return to their homes.

In 29 May 2020, a total of 598 families were once again, displaced during an encounter between armed groups and government security forces in Sitio Walew Ideng in Barangay Kuya in South Upi, Maguindanao. They quickly evacuated bringing nothing but their families to safety. Displacement brought by aarmed conflict remains to be a great humanitarian challenge in Maguindanao.

Raymond (not his real name), 83, lives alone with his wife in Barangay Kuya. Together with his wife, they spent the nights in the temporary evacuation center together with the hundred other families. Life in evacuation centers can last a few months but these spaces are not conducive for living. They stay in covered basketball court which gets flooded whenever it rains and there is only one functional toilet and bathroom.

Most of the people, particularly the elderly, women, and children, go down to the river to bathe and do laundry. With no partition in place, women and girls are at-risk to safety and security concerns. Sleeping kits and hygiene kits, which should include sanitary pads for women, will help make their living conditions more comfortable.

Raymond lived in South Upi all his life. He has never met a fellow Teduray who engages in armed conflict. All his life, their community has only known to live in peace until conflict erupted. it pains him to see his community experience such dificulties again especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic also in place.

When Oxfam, IDEALS, Inc. and Community Organizers Multiversity (COM) conducted a rapid needs assessment (RNA) in the affected area, they found out that Tedurays don’t have access to electricy because of their geographical location. South Upi is too far and mountainous to have the necessary infrastructure built. They rely solely on solar energy to charge their electronics at home. The Tedurasy live a simple life; their only material possessions that need charging are lights, sound boxes, and their phones, which are all powered by solar energy.

The team also learned that most, if not all, of the senior citizens cannot claim the conditional cash transfer alloted for them by the government because they do not have a senior citizen’s identification card because they do not have a certificate of live birth or any legal document to prove their identities. Most of them are also not able to access formal education due to this missing legal requirement.

Legal Missions are an avenue for internally displaced persons (IDPs) to address their legal concerns especially cases of gender-based violence and child protection. Two (2) rounds of legal missions on 03 June and 09 June 2020 were conducted by IDEALS, Inc., led by OXFAM under REACH funded by European Union on Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid – ECHO to help provide life-saving aid to the displaced residents of Kuya, South Upi.

The team immediately listed applicants for free birth registration assistance. The service was given to children, middle-aged adults and senior citizens. A total of 66 families (215 inidividuals) will be given free Certificates of Live Birth after the activity after completing the process.

Frequent displacements can bring psychological distress and trauma to IDPs. Other than addressing the needs of legal concerns, community-based psychosocial activities were also conducted to provide a safe avenue for people to process their feelings with a peer-group. A total of 32 individuals including men, women and young children participated the activity led by COM. Providing psychosocial intervention is an effective tool to ensure mental well-being of the evacuees and to evaluate if further intervention is required.

The Tedurays are known to be peace-loving and live a simple life. Like Raymond, may of them hope for a day to come that these armed men will leave them in peace so they can return to their homes and live a happy life.

This year’s World Refugee Day comes at a time of increased forced displacement due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The massive displacement from the decade-long conflict in Mindanao underscored the call for global ceasefire and for the government to prioritize the needs of the displaced families.

 The EU Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid – ECHO has been providing life-saving support to those displaced by the cyclical and protracted crisis in Mindanao through the #REACH Project. 

The project is being implemented by Oxfam, United Youth of the Philippines-Women, Community Organizers Multiversity – CO Multiversity, IDEALS, Inc., CARE Philippines, ACCORD Incorporated, and Action Against Hunger Philippines.