KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/24 March) – Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz, the Archbishop-elect of Zamboanga, has vowed to attend to the needs of the ‘bakwits’ or residents displaced from their homes due to the 21-day standoff between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City last September.
Dela Cruz, 66, will be installed as Archbishop of Zamboanga on May 14.
At the thanksgiving lunch after the graduation of the pioneer batch of eight graduates of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Diocesan Seminary last Sunday, Dela Cruz said he is aware of the challenges he would face in Zamboanga, including the problems facing the internally displaced persons or ‘bakwits’ there.
He told the graduates and their parents that in his homily during the morning mass at the Cathedral, he narrated to parishioners about the problem of lack of water at the grandstand-turned-evacuation center in Zamboanga City and how ‘bakwits’ have been complaining they had not taken a bath because of lack of water.
He said as the shepherd he would tell his flock of ‘bakwits’ in Zamboanga “kung baho mo, magpabaho pud ko” (if you smell, I will also smell like you).
Water for ‘bakwits’ and more
Dela Cruz said that among his priorities would be “to ensure they will have water” and “ensure they will get out of that situation.”
He said he also heard of the problems Badjaos are facing in terms of relocation to a place away from the sea.
“Badjaos can’t live without the sea,” he said.
Dela Cruz told MindaNews after the thanksgiving lunch that he would meet with the city’s officials, interfaith groups and other sectors.
“I would like to listen to various groups,” he said.
A report from the City Health Office in Zamboanga City said 88 deaths had been reported at the Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Center, more popularly known as “Grandstand,” and the Cawa-Cawa shoreline, from September 9, 2013 to February 22, 2014.
Forty four or half of those who died were children under five years old; 24 were aged 5 to 59 and 20 were aged 60 and beyond.
Diarrhea was the leading cause of mortality for children under 5 years (41%). Pneumonia (27%) was the leading cause of morbidity among the 5-59 age group.
The report also said 55% of deaths occurred outside health facilities but in the evacuation centers at JFEMSC and Cawa-Cawa shoreline.
Last month, according to the Situational Report Number 4 of the Zamboanga Recovery and Rehabilitation Efforts dated February 18, a total of 26,026 residents were still in staying in 10 evacuation centers and four transitional sites in Zamboanga City as of February 11. Of this number, half or 13,274 displaced persons were staying at the Joaquin F. Enriquez, Jr. Sports Complex while 4,310 were staying along the Cawa-Cawa Shoreline Cluster
From Basilan to Zamboanga
Dela Cruz is no stranger to Zambonga. He was Bishop of Basilan from 1989 to 2001 and Bishop of Antique from 2001 until his appointment as Bishop of Kidapawan in 2008.
He has been serving as Bishop of Kidapawan since June 2008, succeeding Bishop Romulo Valles who was named Archbishop of Zamboanga in 2007 and Archbishop of Davao in 2012.
Dela Cruz said he was called by the Papa Nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Guiseppe Pinto, to Manila on February 25 and was told that it is the desire of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, that he would serve as Archbishop of Zamboanga.
He said he was given a day to write his response. The next day, he wrote the Papal Nuncio that “in fear and trembling,” he was accepting the new assignment.
He said he added in this letter “In Confido Domino” (I trust in the Lord) and “Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo” (I will sing the mercies of the Lord forever).
Vatican Radio announced Dela Cruz’ appointment on March 15, a day before he celebrated his 26th anniversary as Bishop.
Mindanao has four Archdioceses – Cotabato under Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Davao under Archbishop Valles, Ozamiz under Jesus Dosado, and Zamboanga. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)