ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/12 April) – The city government has transferred at least 32 families displaced by the September 2013 siege from R.T. Lim or Cawa-Cawa Boulevard to two elementary public schools.
Elmeir Apolinario, assistant city administrator, said the 32 families comprising of 225 individuals were transferred Friday afternoon to the Mampang Elementary School in Barangay Mampang.
He added that those who could not be accommodated in Barangay Mampang will be housed at the elementary school in the adjacent Barangay Arena Blanco.
Apolinario noted the transfer went smoothly despite earlier reports of resistance from both the host community and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) or bakwits.
They were ferried by government trucks and L-300 vans.
He attributed the peaceful and orderly transfer to the “adequate groundwork,” such as social preparation for both the host community and the IDPs.
Representatives from concerned clusters under the Rehabilitation Coordination Structure (RCS), including personnel from the Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, witnessed the transfer of the bakwits.
Apolinario said the transfer of IDPs will continue until Tuesday or until all verified and assessed IDP-families occupying Cawa-Cawa Boulevard shall have been transferred either to the Mampang Elementary School or to the Arena Blanco Elementary School.
He said that decongesting Cawa-Cawa Boulevard of refugees “is seen as the best way to address health issues confronting the IDPs in the evacuation centers.”
Dr. Rodelin Agbulos, city health officer, has pushed to decongest the Cawa-Cawa Boulevard and the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex “to totally resolve health issues besetting the IDPs housed on tents in the two areas.”
Agbulos, who heads the health cluster of the RCS, confirmed that 108 people have died from various illnesses in the two evacuation centers since the September 9 siege, with pneumonia as the leading cause of death as well as acute gastroenteritis.
Apolinario said that the local government will ensure that the IDPs will vacate the schools two weeks before the opening of classes in June based on the agreement with the Department of Education.
He said the city government will also shoulder the water and light expenses that will be incurred by the two schools.
It will also pay for the repair of any damages that may be sustained by school facilities after the IDPs shall have been transferred to the transitory site at Sitio Masepla in Barangay Mampang.
The temporary stay of the IDPs at the elementary schools of Mampang and Arena Blanco will pave the way for the construction of bunkhouses or temporary shelters at Sitio Masepla.
Sitio Masepla is a former saltbed area, which was granted a special permit to be used as a transitory site for families displaced by the September 2013 siege.
The siege started September 9 when hundreds of Moro National Liberation Front associated with founding chair Nur Misuari infiltrated this city.
To date, thousands of IDPs are still housed on tents along Cawa-Cawa Boulevard and at the sports complex. (MindaNews)