Desperate Zamboanga war refugees long for home

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ZAMBOANGA CITY: Hundreds of war refugees have failed to return to their homes in Zamboanga City, a month after street battles between security forces and separatist rebels ravaged their place.

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The villagers wanted to rebuild what was left in Santa Barbara, scene of three weeks of deadly clashes last month, after military offensive left the area razed and destroyed.

Village chieftain Adbulhamid Irin also told residents that they can now return to the area after security forces cleared Santa Barbara and local government approved their safe return. Irin made the announcement at the dxRZ Radyo Agong, saying the assurance to return came from two staff of Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar.

But troops and policemen prevented villagers from entering the village after Salazar told them that no clearance has been issued for civilians to return.

A team from the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center was also in the area after receiving reports that residents have been allowed in the village. It said some 300 residents trooped to Santa Barbara hoping to finally return to their houses, but the number swelled to over a thousand people.

It said Salazar sent councilman Roel Natividad to talk to the villagers, but he was not able to manage the queries from the residents. “Nonetheless, it was announced that the legitimate owners of the houses, apartments and other buildings will be given time to see their properties once the Crisis Management Committee gives the necessary clearance,” the human rights center said.

Salazar also arrived later to pacify angry villagers. She said more work is needed in the village before residents are allowed to return.

“We appeal to the people who really wanted to return home, you have to coordinate with the barangay officials because they will be the one to coordinate as to who can return because they know who the property owners are and we want to prevent looting.

“The military has been instructed by [First Infantry Division commander] General Felicito Virgilio Trinidad that all personnel [troops]leaving [the village]will have to pass an inspection, shown to the public so they will know that there was no looting done by any military or police,” she said.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development has allocated P10 million to fund the building of bunkhouses inside the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex where thousands of war refugees are now staying. The bunkhouses are only temporary shelters that will house several hundred people.

After the military has declared some areas to be safe, a number of evacuees from the armed conflict between government troops and Moro National Liberation Front-Misuari faction in Zamboanga City are now returning home.

To ensure that those returning home will meet their daily food needs while starting anew, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will provide them with “pabaon” packs.

DSWD ‘pabaon’
To date, the DSWD has released “pabaon” packs to 930 families who have returned to their respective communities in Mampang, Talon-Talon, and Arena Blanco. Family-evacuees who returned home came from the following evacu- ation centers in Mampang—602, Lunzuran-200, JFE Sports Complex—77, Boalan—46 and Guiwan—5.

Each “pabaon” pack contains nine kilos of rice, 15 cans of sardines, 10 cans of corned beef, 20 pieces of noodles and 20 pieces of 3-in-1coffee. Each pack is valued at P933 and is estimated to be good for one week.

The access cards of the returning evacuees are surrendered to the DSWD as soon as they receive their “pabaon.”

To date, 8,341 families or 40,511 persons are still housed in 27 evacuation centers around the city. Family packs are given to families in evacuation centers every two days.

The fighting, which killed and wounded more than 400 people, forced over 100,000 people to flee their homes.

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