Fire victims, ‘bakwits’ high on priority list of Zambo gov’t

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/20 September)—As the armed conflict here entered Day 12 on Friday, Mayor Maria Isabelle “Beng” Climaco-Salazar vowed to give top priority to the fire victims and the tens of thousands displaced by the hostilities.

Clashes between Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members loyal to founding chair Nur Misuari and government troops started on September 9, directly affecting six coastal villages but generally disrupting the economy and peace in the city.

“We are doing the best that we can to address the growing needs of the mounting number of evacuees. We are beset with a number of challenges also from people who lost their income, and we have started a plan to assist them through the barangays and parishes,” Climaco-Salazar said in a statement.

More commercial establishments have opened since Thursday to cater to the needs not only of the residents but the local donors for food supplies and other commodities.

As of Thursday, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that at least 118,000 residents have been displaced by the hostilities, with 10,160 houses totally destroyed by fires.

At past 7 p.m. Thursday, the Crisis Management Committee advised that City Hall workers whose offices are providing frontline services are required to report for work.

Resumption of office operations of government employees in national and regional government offices outside of the critical areas are subject to the discretion of their respective regional directors, it added.

With President Benigno Aquino III’s pronouncement of a P6.1-billion appropriation for the rehabilitation of the conflict zones in Zamboanga, Climaco-Salazar said that “the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) through Sec. Dinky Soliman is continuously supporting us in the relief operations and will continue to do so until the rehabilitation stage.”

On Wednesday, MindaNews saw Assistant Health Secretary Dayang Carsum Jumaide and Assistant Social Welfare Secretary Kim Datumanong of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) assessing the needs in barangay halls that were accommodating internally displaced persons (IDPs). The ARMM team proceeded to supply aid Thursday in Barangay Talon-talon.

Since the first day, Tzu Chi Foundation, as the “first emergency responder,” has continuously supplied the victims with foods and other basic needs.

Dr. Anton Mari Lim, president of Tzu Chi Foundation-Zamboanga City, told MindaNews that P2.1 million worth of goods have been purchased.

The group also gathered donated goods worth P400,000, Lim added.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has sent P26 million worth of bottled water, food and emergency home supplies, which were delivered to the Sangguniang Panlungsod for daily management distribution.

Early this week, the Rotary Club of Zamboanga City distributed packed groceries to tricycle drivers who have been among those affected by the economic standstill hurting the city in the past 12 days.

Nonoy Awid, President of the Responsible Union of Empowered Drivers Association or RUEDA, said that the Rotarians initially gave around 600 packs, and more are expected.

Ateneo De Zamboanga University has offered its facility as a drop-off center for donations from its alumni, faculty, personnel and academic partners.

In other evacuation centers, Mein College, Inc., the Kiwanis Clubs of Samboangan and Asia’s Latin City, Voice of Mindanao, the Darul Ifta of the Philippines, Muslim Students Associations, Zonta Club of Zamboanga City, and members of Operation Blessing have been jointly and separately contributing to the city government’s efforts to support the IDPs who have been accommodated in at least 60 evacuation centers across the city.

“The DOH, in coordination with Dr. (Rodel) Agbulos and other medical teams from other regions in Mindanao, has already devised ways to respond to the crisis using the cluster approach: health, water and sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, mental health, and psycho-social system,” Climaco-Salazar said.

The Zamboanga Bankers and Financiers Association has already announced the reopening of banks. More outlets for money transfer and remittance agencies as well as currency exchange stations have resumed business operations since Thursday. (Frencie Carreon/MindaNews)