Senate probe on deaths of Zamboanga refugees hailed


ZAMBOANGA CITY: Various sectors have welcomed a Senate resolution that would investigate the deaths of many war refugees who have succumbed to various diseases in government evacuation sites in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines.

To date, more than a hundred people have died from diseases during the past few months in evacuation centers. This grim trend is expected to continue since many centers are filthy and lack necessary medical and emergency facilities.

Alarmed by the rising casualties, Sen. Nancy Binay has filed Resolution 566 urging the Senate to look into the reported deaths and the health conditions of children living in these centers.

Refugee leader Gamz Hassan said they welcome the probe and called on Binay to come to Zamboanga to see the heart-breaking plight of evacuees.

“Senator Nancy Binay, we welcome you to grandstand in Zamboanga. Hoping for your fair and just investigation on the deaths in our evacuation centers,” he said, referring to internally displaced persons at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex.

Hassan also asked help from the new Archbishop of Zamboanga, the Most Rev. Romulo de la Cruz.

“It’s a challenge to him as the new church head in the city since no Christian communities and churches reached out to us aside from some Christian families who brought food and clothes,” he said.

At the same time, he urged the local government to allow the refugees to return to their homes instead of staying in evacuation centers. “Don’t wait for us to die in pain. Who will enjoy the promised development and rehabilitation? Send us home now, not tomorrow,” Hassan said.

Access to clean and potable water and portable toilets remain a huge problem in refugee centers, particularly at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex where thousands of people displaced by fighting between rebels and security forces in September last year are struggling to survive.

“The health of families, especially those of the vulnerable—children and the elderly—must be continuously monitored and evaluated by the authorities,” Binay said.

Citing medical reports from Zamboanga City, Binay said many of those who died suffered from diarrhea and other fatal diseases. Diarrhea is the leading cause of children’s deaths while acute gastroenteritis and other respiratory ailments such as pneumonia and asthma leading to cardiac arrest are the primary causes of adult deaths, she said, quoting a medical report from Zamboanga.

“This is an alarming trend since many people continue to stay inside the camps,” she said, adding that the health of displaced persons is a paramount concern.

Other people, however, don’t see it that way. Reacting to reports on Binay’s resolution, local resident Juanito Delgado said, “With the health facilities available in Zamboanga, the money gained from the September 9 rebel attack in this city should be enough to pay for the health care of war refugees. These people are actually hostages of the government and are being used to justify the continued solicitation of millions of pesos in rehabilitation work.”


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