By Jomari Guillermo
MANILA: (May 23) — Thousands are still being housed in transitory sites in Zamboanga City as rehabilitation efforts in the area continues, eight months after the armed conflict between government forces and a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) erupted, killing more than 200 people.
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle “Beng” Climaco-Salazar said in a televised interview with ANC Friday morning that there are still more than 2,300 people staying at four schools in the city while 25,700 out of the 120,000 people affected have been displaced.
Villagers who were displaced by the fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels continue to be housed in tents in a stadium in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. The ongoing standoff has now displaced more than 100,000 people and resulted in billions of pesos (millions of dollars) losses to the city’s business. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
She said that these 2,312 people staying in schools as temporary shelters will soon be evicted as classes are about to start in June.
“We have negotiated and bargained with DepEd (Department of Education) but they will soon be evicted because the priority is for children to go to school,” she said.
Climaco said that they are planning to set up more transitory sites.
She also revealed that there were 114 evacuees, most of them elderly and children, who died.
“These deaths were because some of the evacuees do not seek western medicine. It has really been a challenge to the WHO (World Health Organization), DOH (Department of Health), and city health offices to reach out to those who are sick,” she said.
She claimed that medical stations have been set up in the area to respond to needs of the people.
She said that the government through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the National Housing Authority (NHA) is set to build 7,200 permanent houses.
She also thanked the Army engineering battalion, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), International Organization for Migration (IOM) for building “very culturally sensitive” temporary houses as it affects the psyche of the people.
“The Badjaos are the people of the sea. Their attachment to nature really affects the kind of housing that should be given to them. These are temporary housing but they liked it. They even wanted to live there permanently but that will not be allowed as these houses do not pass the DPWH standards,” she said.
MORE FUNDS NEEDED
Climaco revealed that the local government needs more funds for the reconstruction of houses and for them to sustain their everyday needs.
“I dont have the money. I tell my people that the local government does not have the money so we have to beg for the national government so that they will set aside money for us. We hope and pray that houses be built sooner so the people could go on. What sustains us is that we are looking forward,” she said.
She said that they have already asked the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other United Nations (UN) partners to come up with a long-term sustainability plan and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) to reevaluate them to see the depth and the need of the humanitarian crisis to help them to extend the period of response.
More funds are also needed to pay the electric bills of the local government as it is the only source of electricity in the area, Climaco said.
She also said that they need P130,000 a week just to clean up the public toilets.
“Where will we get the money? We have money for the future but we did not appropriate money for our current needs in the 2014 budget. We thank the DSWD and DOH for rescuing us. We also thank UN partners and the international community for their continued service,” she said.
She also said that United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) have vowed to stay longer to look into the nutrition of the affected children.
Climaco said that funds have been allotted for the rehabilitation of the affected schools, including Sta. Barbara Central School and Rio Hondo Elementary School. She said that DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro has assured her that there were funds from the national government but it “will take time.”
Aside from the schools, the mayor also appealed to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Supreme Court (SC) to help in rebuilding the Hall of Justice and other courts in the city.
“Sta. Barbara school was pulverized. Fronting it is the Hall of Justice which also needs to be rebuild. There’s a lot of pending cases that need to be responded. They also need supplies such as bond papers,” she said.
She also said that people are secured in the area as she has already asked the police to look into incidence of violence, particularly gender-based violence.
“We would like to avoid incest, HIV/AIDS, and prostitution that’s why we have the protection cluster composed of DSWD, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and volunteers to look into these cases,” she said.
She said that several clusters have been formed to make plans and deal with the many problems of the people affected by the siege. She said that cluster meetings are being held two to three times a week to discuss updates on the current issues and problems facing the siege victims.
“To my people, let’s just hold on together, Christians, Muslims, and Lumads,” Climaco said.