DAVAO CITY – Death, illnesses and lack of relocation for thousands of evacuees a year after the Zamboanga siege led a Partylist lawmaker to blame government for what he calls “criminal negligence”.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate raised concern over the recent report of the International Committee of the Red Cross showing that some 40,000 people still live in makeshift tents, and that some 167 persons have died due to unsanitary and cramped conditions in the centers.
“One year after, the government response is not only slow but already borders on criminal negligence,” said Zarate, pointing to continued rise in the death toll of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the evacuation sites.
Residents of Zamboanga City remembered the events on September 9 last year when some 300 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters entered the southern coastal village of the city and later engaged government troops in a 20-day stand off. Government data show that 170,000 people were displaced, hundreds dead, and thousands of homes razed by fire.
Zarate asked where had government and donation funds went in light of this development.
“Despite the millions of funds for rehabilitation given to the government it is clearly unacceptable that the IDPs are still mired in the situation that they are now'” the lawmaker said.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development reported that P363.9 million was released to displaced families as livelihood assistance, as it claimed some 10,400 families have been relocated to “transitional shelters”.
But news reports said that evacuees, who once lived in the coastal area of the city continued to wait for assistance, and voicing out their yearning to return to their homes to resume their livelihood.
The Moro organization Suara Bangsamoro likewise deplored the slow pace of government relief.
“It is just like (Typhoon) Yolanda, or even worse, because government has failed to live its promise,” said Suara spokesperson Jerome Sucor Aba, referring to the disaster of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that wrecked most parts in Leyte and the slow relief efforts that followed.
Aba said the lack of livelihood had pushed some youth to engage in prostitution.
He also raised concern on the fate of 200 civilians who were captured by soldiers on suspicion that they are fighters. It said that they were brought to Bicutan in Taguig, Metro Manila.
The ICRC reported it was assisting families to visit some 300 detainees in Bicutan.
The Human Rights Watch had culled reports of abuses to civilians and minors while under military custody at the height of the standoff.
Zarate said this shows the government’s penchance to blame the MNLF for the incident. He reminded that the reasons for the standoff was due to the government perceived failing to honor its commitment to government-MNLF peace agreement in 1996.
“For the convenient blame game and finger-pointing that is now becoming a trademark of the Aquino administration, nothing is being done to investigate the government’s unilateral abandonment of previous peace agreements it entered with the MNLF, like the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. Thus, more than blaming solely the military adventurism of the MNLF, the Aquino government is also largely responsible for the Zamboanga tragedy'” Zarate said. (davaotoday.com)