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Executive Summary

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Mass displacement is one of the defining characteristics of violent conflict in Central Mindanao. Between 2000 and 2010, over 40 percent of families were displaced at least once. One in ten was displaced five times or more. 30 percent had been displaced for more than a year during that time.

Key findings

  1. Mass displacement is one of the defining characteristics of violent conflict in Central Mindanao. Between 2000 and 2010, over 40 percent of families were displaced at least once. One in ten was displaced five times or more. 30 percent had been displaced for more than a year during that time.[1]
  2. Displacement exacts an immense socio-economic cost. Displaced people were consistently worst off and least secure compared to the rest of the population. They were least optimistic about the future.
  3. The impact of displacement does not end when people return home. Returned households were almost as vulnerable as those who were still displaced and their problems of food insecurity, income poverty and poor access to services were almost as severe.
  4. As many as 82 percent of households in Maguindanao had been displaced at least once in the past decade. Maguindanaons had the highest exposure to violence and suffered the worst poverty, food insecurity and access to services. People in Lanaodel Sur had the worst access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Access to information was worst in these two provinces, as was the reported level of trust in state institutions.
  5. Almost four times as many Muslims as Christians were at risk from unprotected water sources. Muslims travelled twice as long to access a health clinic and elementary school. They were almost three times more likely to have experienced displacement.
  6. In times of need, the family is the main source of support. Remittances and family credit were important backstops for livelihoods. 8 percent relied on money sent home, while 58 percent had borrowed money in the previous two months to buy food, largely from their relatives. Only 3 percent accessed credit from banks.
  7. Although half of respondents had received some kind of aid, it was not well targeted. Displaced households were least likely to have received assistance in the year prior to the survey. A higher proportion of food secure households had been assisted than those with poor food security.

In North Cotabato (76%) and Maguindanao (70%), a large majority saw the struggle for self-determination as the main cause of conflict. Among Muslims, 59 percent proposed signing a peace agreement as the best means to end the violence (93% in Maguindanao). This compares with 36 percent of Christians. The latter gave more emphasis to the need to improve the economic situation (74% vs. 56); end impunity (45% vs. 40%) and resolve land conflicts (35% vs. 28%). 



Although it is not possible to conclude a causal relationship between displacement and the range of problems faced by the peoples of Central Mindanao, the survey nevertheless reveals much about the nature and extent of vulnerability in the affected area – across provinces, population categories and livelihood groups.

The following strategy and operational implications emerge from this study:[2]

Displacement is not only a humanitarian concern. It is a significant, multi-faceted development issue

Displacement is more than a humanitarian crisis or short-term emergency. It drives long-term development problems such as poor access to services, lack of trust in institutions, reduced income and insecurity. The survey results draw a grim picture of livelihoods and well-being and point to numerous and complex barriers to resettlement and recovery.[3]  Dire education levels among populations who endure prolonged displacement underlines how displacement robs children of opportunity and perpetuates the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

The challenges of displacement do not end with a return to home

Following spikes in violence and associated displacement, the understandable response of most humanitarian assistance from government and the international community is to return people to their place of origin.  Support often ends at this point, but the study demonstrates that populations returned to their place of origin were almost as badly off as those currently displaced.  Thus, as a matter of priority, development assistance must be targeted also to those recently returned in their places of origin.

Urgently improve the targeting of assistance

Aid is not adequately directed at those who are suffering most. For example, displaced households were least likely to report having received assistance in the year prior to the survey, and, despite being the province with the worst indicators on access to services, only 36 percent of households in Maguindanao said that there had been a development project in their communities, compared to over 80 percent elsewhere.

The National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTSPR) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development provides an objective assessment of needs and is a good starting point for targeting assistance.

Pay more attention to the participatory process

Among the third or so of the population who were unhappy with development projects in their barangay, their dissatisfaction was generally due to the lack of popular involvement in making these decisions. Only 11 percent said that the decisions on development projects were made by the barangay assembly with most people present. The main reasons for not being satisfied with the projects included the lack of involvement of respondents (38%), the perception that decisions are made to benefit leaders (30%), or that ultimately, nothing is implemented (28%). These issues can be addressed through more effective community participation and through better implementation and monitoring.

The data suggests that international assistance agencies should be concerned about their engagement in Lanaodel Sur and Maguindanao, in particular. In those ARMM provinces, 43 percent and 57 percent, respectively, of people indicated low trust in foreign agencies, compared to over 85 percent elsewhere.

Investigate needs that may not be self-identified by the population

There are certain disparities between, on the one hand, the priorities mentioned by households and/or the type of assistance provided in their community, and on the other hand, data about other needs.

The most striking example is water and sanitation. Just over half of households in the poorest wealth quintile rely on unprotected sources of water (52%), with all of the associated health implications. Yet only a minority of the survey respondents identified water as a priority: 2 percent mentioned it as their top priority, and 7 percent mentioned it among their top three priorities. In Lanaodel Sur, 40 percent of people draw directly from lakes, rivers or streams and 13 percent on open dug wells. Yet, the community development activity reported by 44 percent of respondents in the province was the construction of a barangay hall.

Regular population surveys are essential for exploring people’s concerns and preferences, but technical research and public awareness campaigns will also be necessary to try to ensure that underlying causes (for example of health problems) are not left unaddressed.

Apply more efforts to improve access to information

In Central Mindanao, a key building block to sustainable development will be to improve access to information which was shown to be highly unequally distributed between strata and settlement groups. For information on development, effective participatory processes can be particularly helpful.  As indicated by the findings on the association between assistance and higher levels of trust, such processes can serve to bridge the gap between individuals and institutions. A continuing trend towards greater trust in state institutions would underpin public perceptions of their legitimacy. This has been highlighted by the 2011 World Development Report as a critical pathway out of conflict towards lasting peace.[4]


[1]The findings apply to the population of the five provinces covered by the population survey commissioned by the World Bank and WFP: Lanaodel Sur, Maguindanao, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat, as well as Cotabato City.

[2]The report does not purport to define specific recommendations, since the various agencies to which it is targeted have highly varied mandates, capacities and resources.

[3]Because of the cross-sectional nature of the survey, it is not possible to establish whether the characteristics of displaced households result from displacement, or whether the households are still displaced as a result of these characteristics.

[4]World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development, The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank, 2011. See: