Group says ‘climate and economic justice’ needed to prevent repeat of ‘Sendong’

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/14 January) — A coalition of religious, nongovernment and civil society organizations today said they will advance “a bigger commitment to prevent more Sendongs by working for climate and economic justice” at the same time that they started giving stress debriefing sessions for survivors of the flood brought by Storm Sendong last month.

Balsa Mindanao’s psycho-social counseling volunteers numbering at least a hundred started the series of debriefing sessions at the Agusan Evacuation Center in Agusan Elementary School.

The volunteers included nuns, priests, psychiatric and social welfare professionals, workers, professors and students from universities in Davao, Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities and Caraga, Zamboanga, and Far South Mindanao regions.

In a phone interview today, lawyer Beverly Selim-Musni, one of Balsa Mindanao’s convenors, thanked the facilitator-volunteers for contributing to the success of the start of a series of stress debriefing sessions for Sendong survivors.

“Our coming together is part of a bigger commitment to prevent more Sendongs by working for climate and economic justice,” she said.

“With the obvious breakdown of government systems for disaster prevention, mitigation and response, we rely on the people to empower themselves and raise their capacity to carry out grassroots community-based disaster management and responses. We do this, as we also look at long-term strategies and solutions to environmental plunder and climate change and its impact to Mindanao,” reads part of the group’s statement posted on their website.

The initial stress debriefing sessions followed Friday’s assembly at Buffalo Resto-Grill where some 40 delegates from various groups convened Balsa Mindanao.

Selim-Musni said Balsa Mindanao is the “broadening” of the initial disaster response and relief operations by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao (RMP-NMR) and Panay Bulig, a disaster response NGO, two of the first organizations that carried out immediate humanitarian campaign in the region.

“The convenors have also agreed to hold a 40th day commemoration of more than 1,400 reported dead, thousands more missing and now feared dead wrought by tropical storm Sendong, on January 25,” she said.

She, however, added that they have yet to plan where to hold the commemoration rites.

Aldeem Yañez, Balsa Mindanao secretariat member, said in a text message, Saturday: “In Cagayan de Oro, we target a public forum cum protest action in Sitio Pag-asa, barangay Carmen. This will be followed by a simultaneous island-wide interfaith hour of remembrance. Later we will connect with the Archdiocese candle lighting prayer. All major cities in Mindanao will hold separate events, including some parts of the Visayas and Luzon.”

Balsa Mindanao (Help for Mindanao) is a citizen-led and island-wide response to the humanitarian crisis brought about by tropical storm Sendong. Convenor-organizations include the United Methodist Church Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM) – Mindanao Social Apostolate, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Religious Good Shepherd – Women for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (RGS-WJPIC);

Society of Divine Vocations (SDV), Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary (SMSM), Sacred Heart Brothers, Charles Borromeo Sisters , Missionary Sisters of Mary, Educators’ Forum for Development Mindanao, Holy Cross Davao College, University of Mindanao Social Work Department, and Children’s Rehabilitation Center.

Balsa Mindanao welcomes donations and volunteers for their planned activities and can be contacted through their websites: and (Cong Corrales/MindaNews)