ZAMBOANGA CITY – Provincial government employees in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are not getting their salaries because banks have run out of cash as flights from Zamboanga City to the island-provinces remain suspended.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) suspended all flights following attacks by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City on September 9 and three weeks of street battles had killed and wounded over 400 people.
Although flights in Zamboanga to Davao, Manila and Cebu resumed last month, flights to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi have not resumed, and employees were forced to borrow since the Land Bank of the Philippines was not able to transport funds to the provinces.
The suspension of the flights has also stalled government projects and development programs because the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) – the share of revenues a local government from the national government – for the provinces cannot be drawn from the bank for lack of funds.
The CAAP cannot lift the suspension of flights to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi without the approval of the Crisis Management Committee (CMC) headed by Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabella Salazar.
Salazar said police and military authorities will recommend to the CMC when to allow the resumption of flights to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
Even ferry services from Zamboanga to the two provinces is limited.
The Department of Budget and Management in Zamboanga said the IRA for the two provinces have been released, although the September fund was slightly delayed due to the breakout of violence in Zamboanga.
“The IRA for September and October have been released and we haven’t received complaints from budget officers. It’s up to the banks how to deliver the money,” Nilda Cemine, DBM assistant regional director, told The Manila Times.
Provincial budget officers blamed the suspension of flights for the problems facing hundreds of employees and contractual workers.
Shirley Macaso, manager ng Land Bank of the Philippines in Zamboanga City, said the IRA is ready for transport, but CAAP has not lifted the flight suspension.
Macaso said they have talked to the managers of Philippine Air Lines and Cebu Pacific, which regularly fly to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, for a special flight so they can transport the money, but the CAAP will not lift the suspension without the go-ahead from the CMC.
Macaso said she tried convincing the military to provide them with just one special flight, but was told to wait for any available aircraft. They also tried to charter a plane, but failed to get the needed approval from authorities to fly to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
For the meantime, Macaso said they have allowed local government units from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi to withdraw funds in Zamboanga City. But transporting a huge amount is risky.
“We are really doing everything we could to resolve this problem,” she said.