Aid workers enjoy Mindanao missions despite challenges PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 21 August 2014 16:13

Foreign and local humanitarian workers in Central Mindanao face a magnitude of odds everyday but not enough to overcome their zeal to serve the region’s needy sectors.

Officials here of different entities of the United Nations and workers of the Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao told reporters during a press briefing Tuesday that most of them no longer even have time for recreation due to the daily assignments they need to accomplish.

The event, held in one of the offices inside the 32-hectare regional government compound in Cotabato City, was organized by the HEART to highlight the region’s observance on Tuesday of the International Humanitarian Day, which coincided with the date ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman signed, a year ago, the executive order creating the region’s first ever emergency assistance group.

The HEART had served thousands of evacuees displaced by floods and internecine conflicts in the region, the bloody siege by renegade forces of the Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboanga City in 2013, and by the deadly typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), which flattened cities and towns in parts of Visayas in the same year.

Muktar Farah, of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Cotabato City, said the disheartening sight of families torn apart by conflicts and the miserable situation in evacuation sites of villagers from troubled and calamity–stricken areas are what motivates them to work hard.

“We find meaning in what we do. We just have to love what we do for us to do it best,” said Farah, who oversees the operations of UN-OCHA in the provinces.

Also present in the press briefing were Peter Deck of the UN’s High Commissioner on Refugees, Dwight Zabala of the United Nations Children’s Fund, Venus Samson of the UN’s Population Fund, Darren Diel of UN’s World Food Program, Wilhelmina Aquino of the United Nations Development Program, and lawyers Laisa Alamia and Anwar Malang, ARMM’s executive, and local government secretaries, respectively.

Alamia said the Hataman administration is thankful to the UN for engaging in various humanitarian missions in the autonomous region, which covers Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in mainland Mindanao, and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

UNHCR’s Deck, whose office is also engaged in various humanitarian activities in the autonomous region, said while his friends and relatives outside of Central Mindanao and abroad are apprehensive of his safety, he is not bothered since the real security situation in the area is so different from how outsiders unduly perceive it to be.

“It’s a place where people always smile,” Deck pointed out.

Maguindanao and its immediate neighbors, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato provinces in Region 12, are covered by the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The MILF and the government are bound by security agreements enjoining both to jointly protect local and foreign aid workers in the three provinces, and in other areas outside where there are duly-recognized rebel enclaves.

Ramil Masukat, regional disaster risk reduction and management officer, said credit for the HEART’s accomplishments in serving people in areas hit by calamities and armed conflicts in the past 12 months also goes to many “cooperating entities,” such as the Philippine Army’s 6thInfantry Division, the Bureau of Fire Protection, the ARMM regional police office, and local volunteer radio communication groups.

“We always have problems coordinating with local government units on the ground and the unfavorable security situation that sometimes slows us down, but we continue to move on to achieve our goals,” Masukat said.

Masukat said the office of Hataman allocated P26 million for the HEART’s operation in 2015.

He said the Office of the Regional Governor, touted as the “Little Malacañang” of the autonomous region, had also requested for a P110 million grant from the Department of Management to ensure the HEART’s mobility and preparedness.

The HEART has 16 military-trained rescue workers and more than 500 “standby volunteers,” who are employees of different line agencies under ORG, among them the ARMM’s social welfare, public works and health departments.