Mother and little boy


Zamboanga City (June 2014)

Three weeks of intense fighting between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in September 2013 in Zamboanga city, Mindanao resulted in the displacement of an estimated 120,000 people, nearly one-fifth of the city’s total population.

Many people fled spontaneously to avoid being caught in the crossfire. Others were forced to leave following an evacuation order issued by the city government. This was followed by massive aerial and sea-based bombardment and ground assaults by government forces against the MNLF. The bombing triggered widespread fires affecting predominantly Muslim-majority barangays- the lowest administrative tier of government in the Philippines – located on the waterfront.

When the conflict ended, an estimated 10,160 houses were damaged or destroyed. Tens of thousands sought refuge in camps (designated as ‘evacuation centers’) set up by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), including in the city main sports center (the Joaquin F. Enriquez, Jr. Sports Complex also known in the city as the Grandstand) which hosted some 40,000 IDPs at the height of the crisis. Others took shelter with friends and families in the city.

While many IDPs have been able to return to their homes in the years following the conflict, several thousands have been unable to do so. In early 2018, the Protection Cluster in the Philippines, led by UNHCR, estimated that over 10’000 people were living in protracted displacement in Zamboanga. Most of them are displaced people with weak tenure security, including informal settlers and indigenous Badjaos.

For more information on this, please read a blog I wrote in early 2015, “Philippines: Why housing rights must be prioritised to end displacement of Zamboanga’s urban poor (January 2015)” and the report “Philippines: long-term recovery challenges remain in the wake of massive displacement (February 2015)“.


Grandstand Evacuation Center

Nearly half of the displaced managed to return to their homes in the weeks following the end of fighting. However, others could not, either because their homes had been destroyed or damaged or because of government restrictions placed on return to those places mainly for reasons of security; this was mainly in barangay Mariki, Rio Hondo and Santa Barbara. After a few weeks, and particularly when the super typhoon Haiyan hit another part of the country in November 2013, the declaration of “non-return” zones in areas of Rio Hondo and Mariki considered by the City government as high risk of natural hazards further restricted returns.


Masepla transitional site

In an effort to decongest evacuation centres, where IDPs were facing increasingly difficult and inadequate living conditions, the government started identifying areas where transit sites could be built and IDPs moved to. During 2014 and the first five months of 2015, nearly all remaining IDPs were gradually relocated to these transit sites, however, often without being adequately consulted or informed about their right to permanent housing.