BEtween friends: A year after the siege PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 15 September 2014 11:27

By Fatima Pir T. Allian


It has been a year since the siege in Zamboanga City. Thousands displaced are still living in crowded, makeshift shelters where many have succumbed to malnutrition, and other diseases. There have been 167 deaths in the evacuation centers and transition sites. Access to healthcare is still a critical need for the displaced people. The ‘eye-sore’, as some would call Cawa Cawa Boulevard, where our Badjao sisters and brothers stayed has now been cleared and they have been transferred to another site. Those who have been complaining about them for sure must be very happy now for they can stop whining about their presence in that place. But if we can take reflective pause and put ourselves in their shoes — how does one feel and react to discrimination and rejection? Have we asked ourselves, now that they are no longer in Cawa Cawa, if they are comfortable in their new place? In addition the conflict to some extent has made us insecure about our security.

Believe me when I say that this, by far, is the most difficult piece to write. How can one describe the impact of the 28 days of violence in the city when one can still smell the fumes of houses burned? When one can still hear the sirens of the ambulance rushing to get survivors and victims of the conflict, the sirens of the ambulance to save as many houses as possible from burning. We cannot forget some of our young Moros harassed by some authorities because they see that the young volunteers distributing the food packs fit their profiling of the most wanted rebels in the city. The uncertainties of our safety and our loved ones constantly nag us to leave the city. With bated breath many of us chose to stay and remain hopeful praying this, too, shall pass.

Today there are 12,476 IDPs living in dismal conditions at the Grandstand. Incidences of gender-based violence against women and children are one of the conversations shared by the “bakwits” whenever we are in dialogue about the plight of the women and children. We fear that trafficking of persons and prostitution may go unreported in the evacuation centers and transition sites hence victimizing the survivors of conflict. The future of their children is also a concern now that their life has not been normalized since the conflict.

“How can we send our kids to school when we do not have enough money to buy their supplies? Food is our priority and that is even difficult to provide our family”, says the mother of 4 kids.  December 15 is the deadline for all our “bakwits” to be relocated. But how many will be given shelters when there will only be 5,000 housing units that will be provided for the “bakwits”. Before the year ends there may be a number of homeless displaced persons in the city. International groups such as the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported that the intervention of the government “are falling too short, risking leaving thousands with no real options.”

It is easy for others to say we have moved on when they have a home to go to for rest and pleasure. It is easy to claim that our lives are ‘normal’ now because there is no more conflict. It is very easy to close our eyes and forget about our neighbours living in the evacuation centers and transition sites. Yes, it is very easy to complain about the foul odor at the

Grandstand every time we pass by Cawa-Cawa. After all we have access to water, better toilets, money to buy food and medicines. And if lucky, we have movie dates and lunch or dinner plans with our loved ones. But what about our neighbours? If we say let us build a better Zamboanga, and claim Mi Ciudad de Zamboanga, One City Under One Flag, does that mean we all progress together and not leave anyone behind?

“But give glad tidings to those who are patient. Who when afflicted with calamity say: ‘Truly! To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return.’ They are those on whom are the Salaawat (who are blessed and will be forgiven) from their Lord, and they are those who receive His Mercy, and it is they who are the guided ones.” Surah Al-Baqarah: 155- 157

“And seek help in patience and prayer.” Surah Al-Baqarah: 45