Editorial: The human cost of war

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Friday, July 4, 2014


NINE months since government ordered a siege instead of trying to talk peace to bring armed rebels out of their hiding places in densely populated areas in Zamboanga City, thousands are still in evacuation centers with no assurance of being allowed to go back where they lived for decades.

Talks are now about the so-called transitional houses, which the victims are very hesitant to take simply because, if evacuation centers meant nine months and counting, transitional houses can mean a decade or more. That is how slow recovery is when the focus is not in returning to normalcy, but in rounding up people for better control.

After nine months of living in close proximity to areas that have very little sanitary facilities and lots of dark corners, rape becomes a problem. The girls and women are exposed to unprecedented harm. Match this with the desire of management to keep their noses clean at the expense of the victims and what you get are victims who were made to suffer in silence before media finally were able to thrust this out in the pen and demand justice.

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Displacement, death, trauma, rape, and all forms of vulnerabilities to a population that has for so long been living through their own means… that is the human cost of war. That is what happens when a government opts for the armed solution instead of forcing people to sit down and talk. That is what happens when government is so detached from reality, all that is important to them is their image – a macho image at that.

In the launch of a report entitled “Wars Human Cost” last June 20 by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said, "We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict."

UNHCR's annual Global Trends report, which is based on data compiled by governments, non-governmental partner organizations, and from the organization's own records, shows 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2013, fully six million more than the 45.2 million reported in 2012.

While Syria, Colombia, Congo, and Sudan have the greatest numbers of internally displaced persons, or what we call here as “bakwits” the Philippines is still in UNHCR’s sight with 117,400 persons. That number is not something to ignore considering that these means, 117,400 are in vulnerable situations when they could have lived as families able to protect and provide for themselves had the peace solution been applied.

"Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue," Guterres said.

As City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte had repeatedly said through his decades as a leader of this city, he would rather that government talk peace for a hundred years than fire a single bullet. Indeed, nobody wins in a war except that the peddlers of the weapons of war, and the generals who earn the stars. Even the local government loses. We only need to look at Zamboanga City and the pitiful state of its evacuees to realize this.

Nine months since a siege was ordered in Zamboanga City, thousands are still suffering. May this be a lesson to all local government units to exert all efforts to negotiate for peace and settle things with the least civilian populace as collateral damage because in the end, you will have to live with the sufferings of your people, while the national government looks somewhere else to earn their pogi points.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on July 05, 2014.

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