I will never forget the anxiety I felt during the siege of Marawi City in the Philippines.
My name is Daphne Iris Macatimbol. As a part of Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), my colleagues and I worked along the Peace Corridor, a negotiated rescue zone for civilians trapped due to the violent conflict. The rescue zone also served as a space for humanitarian assistance.
Because of NP’s relationships, local groups feel like they can reach out to us and ask for our help. We were the only international organization invited by the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Action Center (established by the government) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front to operate within the Peace Corridor.
I was at the command center daily determining how to support my colleagues who were on rescue missions and how to assist the trapped civilians inside the war zone. I heard distress calls regularly. I went home each evening in an anxious state, remaining sleepless as I wondered about the status of families still trapped inside the war zone. I wished for the battle to end so that they could finally be safe and free.
On October 17, 2018, President Duterte declared Marawi City liberated from the militants after key rebel leaders were killed by the government troops. However, firefights continued for days with a number of hostages still trapped inside the war zone.
The City Social Works and Development office asked NP to assist in finding safe accommodations for hostage survivors in Iligan City about 40 km away. We listened to survivors tell us their immediate needs so we could facilitate assistance for healing, find accommodations, and in some cases, reunify their families. In just one day, our team listened to and worked to meet the needs of 32 hostage survivors.
It was my first personal encounter with hostage survivors. It was very emotional and challenging. We regularly checked on the people and listened to their concerns, needs and worries.
At first, I was frustrated by the inability to give direct material support, but I soon realized that our relationships with survivors is key to strengthening humanitarian work and building peace. Our relationships with survivors provide a strong foundation to meet community protection needs and improve coordination with government and non-government service organizations.
Moving forward side by side with the survivors
Our Lanao-based team has been a core member of the Joint Regional Child Protection and Gender-Based Violence Working Group where we focus on the survivors of the Marawi Crisis. After prolonged displacement, women and girls are increasingly at risk and vulnerable to sexual abuse, exploitation, early or forced marriage, and trafficking.
Survivors are coming to trust us and have confidence in NP. They now work side by side with us to reach out to other survivors so that they can have protective accompaniment and access to assistance towards recovery.
What NP co-founder Mel Duncan says rings true here: “The key to our ability to protect lies in forging ongoing, trusted relationships with multiple parties to a conflict.”