Financial aid lures hundreds of war refugees in Zamboanga


ZAMBOANGA CITY: Hundreds of war refugees on Friday trooped to the office of the Commission on Human Rights here after receiving information that they would be given financial aid.

“We are here hoping to get financial aid from the government or the Commission on Human Rights, but we have been waiting for hours and there is no sign that we are getting some kind of aid,” one elderly Muslim woman told The Manila Times as she showed all her documents to prove that she her family is indigent and that they are refugees as well.

The Commission on Human Rights said it would give out P3,000 for each family, whose houses were burned during the three-week street battle between security forces and Moro National Liberation Front rebels in September.

About 400 rebels attacked villages in Zamboanga City in a failed rebellion that displaced more than 120,000 people and killed and wounded about 400 people.

“We are overwhelmed by the number of fire victims that showed up and we can only accommodate and document about 500 people today,” lawyer Sharon May Belisario said in a separate interview.

She said the processing of the financial aid could take up several months considering the huge number of fire victims. “We hope to distribute P3,000 for each family of fire victims, but this will take more time to process considering the thousands of people affected by the conflagration caused by the war,” she said.

Many refugees, who are staying at different evacuation sites, thought they would be given land title and houses and the news spread like wildfire and in just one hour the street outside the office of the Commission on Human Rights was flooded by people hoping to get new homes by the end of the year.

Policemen had to rush to the area to control the traffic and the growing number of refugees.

“We heard that they would give out land titles and houses for us and that’s why we came rushing here,” said Alshair Allawi, a refugee whose house in the coastal village of Rio Hondo was gutted by fire during the deadly siege.

Just before Christmas, President Benigno Aquino flew to Zamboanga City and briefly inspected temporary shelters occupied by war refugees.

Aquino, in his 8-minute speech before a controlled crowd of refugees at the local sports complex, assured them of the government’s rehabilitation efforts, saying his administration is working closely with various agencies to rebuild houses destroyed during the war.

Reading from his speech, Aquino, who was heavily guarded, spoke from a makeshift stage, showed posters of houses and structures of what he claims to be the government’s answer to the housing woes of the refugees, who are being forced to relocate away from their villages damaged by war.

“Naka-angkla ang atin plano sa isang malinaw na estratehiya. Ang estratehiya ay simpleng-simple. Hindi lang natin gustong burahin ang bakas ng nangyaring karahasan at hangad rin natin isulong ang ganap na pagbangon ng Zamboanga.”

“Sisigurihin natin na hindi na kayo muling mahaharap sa parehong banta at peligro. Sa kabila ng matinding pinsala na dulot ng trahedya ay binubuksan natin ang mga pagkakataon upang ihatid kayo sa ligtas at mas mabuti at mas maasyos na kalagayan,” he said.

Aquino, accompanied by Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar, said the government has already spent some P273.8 million in relief aid and cash-for-work program for over 120,000 people displaced by the fighting and that he allocated an additional P3.5 billion for the rehabilitation efforts here.

After his speech, Aquino, who came from Compostela Valley province, hurriedly left leaving behind many refugees and their leaders, and local journalists who wanted to ask questions to the President.

One refugee said: “I wanted to ask him about our dire situation here. We have no food and the government only gives us one pack a week and this is not even enough to feed a small family.”

Salazar praised Aquino for his support to Zamboanga’s effort in rebuilding the city from the destruction left by the fighting that killed and wounded over 400 people. “Thank you for your leadership and for giving the people of Zamboanga hope and confidence to rise again,” she said. AL JACINTO


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