ZAMBOANGA CITY: A women’s group on Thursday criticized the government’s prolonged neglect of some 29,000 war refugees languishing in cramped evacuation centers here.
Party-list Gabriela claimed some refugees are now being forced into prostitution to survive the harsh condition in temporary shelters.
“Kailangan nang umaksyon ng Presidente Aquino para malutas na ang kaawa-awang lagay ng mga refugee na naipit sa pagitan ng militar at Moro National Liberation Front noong Setyembre, dahil pati kabataang babae ay natutulak na sa prostitusyon at trafficking [President Aquino should act to solve the pityful condition of refugees who are caught between military and the Moro National Liberation Front last September because even young women are forced into prostitution and trafficking],” said Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus.
She said the Aquino government has no business celebrating a regional peace covenant with another Muslim group when it still cannot protect war refugees in a single city long after the armed encounter ended and drove out civilians into camps.
Citing reports, de Jesus said the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex, where 2,000 families are housed, is notorious for the trafficking of young women. Transactions are made via text messaging, and the prostitution services are done inside tents, she said.
De Jesus said they are alarmed over reports that sexually transmitted infections have started to afflict minors, yet the local health office only gave them some treatments, condoms and lectures about the evils of prostitution.
“This is a palliative band aid solution that will not stop women from falling victims to sex trafficking. The refugees need to be resettled in decent houses, and provided livelihoods, free schooling and health services to prevent them from engaging in prostitution,” she said.
She also exhorted the national agencies to implement a comprehensive solution in Zamboanga and stop this negligent “do-nothing” attitude towards the refugees.
Meanwhile, Malacañang ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development to look into the conditions of displaced families in Zam–boanga City amid reports of rampant prostitution inside evacuation centers.
Presidential Communications Secretary Hermnio Coloma Jr. said the DSWD has not received any report.
“If there is an incident, we would welcome reports,” he added. “Napakahigpit ng pinaiiral na patakaran hinggil diyan sapagkat isa sa mga layunin ay ‘yung hindi magkaroon ng human trafficking.”
Coloma said the government is doing everything to ensure the basic needs of the evacuees in the strife-torn city.
More than 120,000 people were evacuated from their villages after Moro National Liberation Front rebels attacked Zamboanga. The fighting, which lasted three weeks, left over 400 people dead and wounded.
The local government has disallowed many villagers, mostly Muslims from Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces, to return to their habitat unless they produce land certificates as proof they are natives here.
Just recently, the United Nations also expressed alarm over the poor condition of the refugees in filthy evacuation centers. The neglect of the government to take care of the refugees also sparked street rallies by Muslim groups and residents in Zamboanga.
WITH A REPORT FROM CATHERINE VALENTE