Davao Today

Zamboanga City — Social Welfare Secretary Corazon ‘Dinky’ Soliman is calling for close monitoring of children and women in evacuation centers following the rape of a six-year old girl in one of the city’s main evacuation centers.

The victim, whose family members were among the 80,000 evacuees staying at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex was reportedly raped by her uncle late night of September 19 while her parents went out to tend to their laundry.

“The victim is now under the custody of the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) for psycho-social therapy intervention. The perpetrator is now in jail,” Soliman announced.

The secretary further said measures are being made to protect women and children in the centers “with the help of the local city police” and added that they are increasing “lighting facilities in the evacuation centers to easily see movements of people around.”

Faridah, a 27-year old mother of four and a neighbor of the rape victim’s family, told Davao Today “(Y)ou have to keep your attention to them. My husband and I are taking turns in watching our children.”

As to the rape incident,”(W)e haven’t really noticed that it happened as we were also busy with our chores,” explained Faridah.

Another mother, Anna, got worried when her seven-year old was locked up inside the evacuation center’s bathroom.

“She had herself locked inside so she screamed. An ice-cream vendor heard her shouts,” Anna said.

When news of the rape inside the evacuation center spread, she said, “I am not letting my daughter out of my sight anymore.”

The DSWD is also expanding day care centers “so that parents can leave their children freely under the care of our social workers,” said Soliman.

Even with added security and measures, Soliman appealed to parents to watch closely their children. “I strongly remind and appeal to parents in evacuation centers to take care of their children and should not let strangers or even relatives to take care of them.

Tending to children has become difficult in evacuation centers with the number of displaced increasing every day. Evacuees in Enriquez Sports Complex had reached 80,000 after two weeks of skirmish between MNLF and state forces.

All over the city, the number of displaced residents has swelled up to nearly 120,000 from 12 villages as fighting continued on its second week.

President Benigno Aquino III, who stayed in the city until Saturday to monitor the situation, had promised Php 3.8 billion for the resettlement and other services for displaced residents.

Meanwhile, for Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luzviminda Ilagan, the President’s allocation for Zamboanga victims “should not in any way be used to justify the retention of discretionary and lump sum funds under the Office of the President.”

In a statement, the solon said “(T)he Zamboanga siege, or any calamity, natural or manmade, should not be used to justify the existence of the President’s Special Purpose Funds or Presidential Pork. Allowing such discretion and entitlement to any government official including the President is a recipe for an even bigger disaster, it is a formula for plunder.”

According to Ilagan, funds have always been and will be allocated specifically for the disaster preparedness, risk reduction as well as rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts in various government agencies and departments as well as in local government units.

“In cases like Zamboanga, or in other cases where existing funds will not suffice Congress may be instructed by the executive to enact a supplementary budget that can be used for such purpose. What is important is that there is a system of checks and balances on the disbursement of funds,” Ilagan explained.

“If there is anything that should be learned from the pork barrel scandal is the fact that unscrupulous individuals can and will take advantage of calamities to plunder people’s money” the militant solon noted.

She also added that “more political initiatives should go towards addressing the roots of conflict with peace negotiations and poverty alleviation through job creation especially in the provinces. Prevention is always better than the cure.”(John Rizle L. Saligumba/

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