3 ARMM provincial govs vow help for Zambo rehab PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 13 December 2013 11:00

Three governors of the Muslim Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao have pledged anew to assist Zamboanga and its war refugees in an effort to hasten rehabilitation and rebuilding of the country’s third largest city attacked by MNLF rebels in September.

The governors — Totoh Tan of Sulu; Nurbert Sahali, of Tawi-Tawi; and Jum Akbar, of Basilan province – were also supported by lawmakers Maryam Arbison of Sulu and Ruby Sahali of Tawi-Tawi and their mayors. They also vowed to uphold the rights of thousands of displaced Muslim villagers in Zamboanga.

Tan said they are ready to help the refugees in Zamboanga and would coordinate closely with the local government and various agencies to ensure the welfare of the refugees.  Tan was among the first to respond to post-crisis emergency by donated over P3 million in cash and relief aid for the victims of the war in Zamboanga.

He again vowed to extend assistance to Zamboanga’s refugees. Sahali and Akbar also pledged to help Zamboanga deal with the problems brought about by the displacement of tens of thousands of people who are still in evacuation areas.

The pledges were made following a regional summit attended by over 200 leaders of various Muslims and Christian groups in Zamboanga City. The conveners of the meeting dubbed “Confidence building, Reconstruction and Healing: What Muslim and Christian Leaders Can Do Together,” were the Darul Ifta, the City Government of Zamboanga and the Archdiocese of Zamboanga.

The summit discussed the plight of the refugees who are still in various evacuation sites here. They were displaced by three weeks of street battles between security forces and hundreds of Moro National Liberation Front rebels who occupied villages in a failed rebellion.

Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi assistance

Sulu Vice Governor Sakur Tan said Muslim villagers have sought the intervention of the governors and Muslim religious leaders to stop the relocation of the refugees and to allow them to return to their original villages.

Tan said they are working in close coordination with the Sulu Provincial Women’s Council and different civil society groups, among others to send more aid for refugees, especially the women and children, in Zamboanga City.

“We are here to help our refugees and we shall continue helping them in coordination with the Zamboanga City government headed by Mayor Beng (Maria Isabelle) Climaco (Salazar), and of course the various groups which share our humanitarian advocacy,” the vice governor said.

Mayors of Sulu and members of the provincial board were also present during the meeting, but notably ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, who is a native of Basilan province, was not around, and none from his office also represented him, although there were some members of the Regional Legislative Assembly.

Helping hands

In his speech, Tan emphasized that they are not intruding into the affairs of Zamboanga, but just wanted to help the local government solve the problems of the refugees.

“We do not want to be misconstrued as intruding into the affairs of Zamboanga, but we thought we are obliged as well to help address the concerns of those people who have been affected by the siege that took place on September 9.”

“We have seen how much suffering the people in the Visayas have gone through as the result of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), but the whole world is providing that much attention, so I would rather that we do not turn our backs to our people here in Zamboanga and we are very appreciative of the efforts of the people of Zamboanga headed by no less than Mayor Beng Climaco (Salazar),” the vice governor said.

“Pinagusapan namin ito kung paano kami makatulong dito sa Zamboanga City at nakikita namin ang kahirapan and we feel that it is also our obligation kasi unang-una our people come to Zamboanga for their medical requirements, our people come to Zamboanga for education, our people come to Zamboanga for their livelihood kaya tingin namin kailangan namin tulungan ang Zamboanga, alagaan ang Zamboanga at hindi natin puwedeng pabayaan ang Zamboanga,” he added.

He also cautioned the participants against those who are trying to sow confusion or hatred between Muslims, Christians and indigenous peoples, saying, all three groups live harmoniously in Zamboanga.

“We need not emulate what others are doing in other countries. Dito sa atin, we are very open. Mixed marriages are not uncommon, mixed marriages between the two faiths – the Christians and the Muslims – look at other territories or other areas in other parts of the world ano ang nangyayari di ba pahirap ng pahirap. Kaya kailangan dito sa atin – they be Christians or they be Muslims, let us be one, we cannot live alone, dapat magsama-sama tayong lahat at magtulong-tulungan tayo,” he said.

Tan, who vowed to support Salazar’s efforts in rehabilitating and rebuilding Zamboanga, was many times interrupted by applause from the participants of the summit, including representatives of refugees and Muslin religious leaders and Catholic priests and peace advocates and members of the civil society groups, among others.

The Darul Ifta of Zamboanga, a grouping composed of Muslim leaders, also vowed to support the efforts in protecting the welfare and well-being of the refugees. Its leaders told Salazar that at least 47 mostly children had died in evacuation centers due to respiratory diseases.

Emotional

In an emotional speech, Salazar, who nearly broke down, has apologized for the deaths of the children and said they are doing everything to stop the spread of deadly diseases in refugee shelters. She said they are closely working with various health and humanitarian agencies to prevent the diseases. She also ordered the quick release of assistance to families of those whose poor children had perished due to sickness.

She also thanked the three governors and all those who helped Zamboanga during the humanitarian crisis and praised the various Christian and Muslim groups, especially the Darul Ifta and peace advocates and Muslim leaders and the Archdiocese of Zamboanga for their support to the rehabilitation efforts of the local government.

“Thank you very much for helping us. At the time when the crisis stuck we were very poor and I would like to appreciate the help that you gave to the city of Zamboanga – Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi at para po kaming mga pulubi and you were there to help us and our struggle still continue and we carry on and that’s we are praying and asking how can we survive because our food packs (for refugees) is now just good for a couple of days. Karamihan po sa aming mga resources is very limited and we really try to do the best that we can,” Salazar told the participants.

No to forced relocation

Refugees have previously protested the relocation plan of the local government, saying, it would be extremely difficult for them to rebuild their lives.

The villagers, many of them Tausug from Sulu ; Yakan, from Basilan; and indigenous Badjao tribe from Tawi-Tawi province - engaged in fishing and other traditional livelihoods - were being relocated to the far villages of Tulungatung and Taluksangay from their original habitat in the coastal villages of Rio Hondo and Mariki and other areas.

Zamboanga government said it has built bunkhouses as temporary shelters to those affected by the violence, but it also warned that villagers who are not natives of Zamboanga would not be allowed to return to their former abode, unless they can provide certificates to show they are landowners.

Some of the displaced villagers accused the government of forcing them into relocating and others claimed social workers threatened to cut off relief aid should they reject the government offer to move to the hilly village of Tulungatung and Taluksangay.

While others protested, many also praised the government for providing them a living quarter and were elated by their new house, saying it greatly helped them in rebuilding their family and future. The bunkhouses, built by the army, were funded by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Those displaced by the fighting have been herded to a sports complex here, but the poor sanitation in the evacuation site makes it uninhabitable for many, and is also threatening the health of elderly, the women and the children.

Salazar urged the refugees to transfer to bunkhouses built by the government as they work for the completion of the rehabilitation plan. President Benigno Aquino has ordered the release of nearly P4 billion in funds to rebuild Zamboanga.