ZAMBOANGA CITY: Religious leaders, governors, and various civil society groups in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are set to hold a summit on Tuesday in efforts to forcefully relocate thousands of villagers displaced during the September siege.
The summit will discuss the plight of war refugees who are still suffering from their harrowing ordeal of the three-week standoff between security forces and the Moro International Liberation Front (MILF), which left burned and ransacked homes and establishments.
Vice Gov. Sakur Tan of Sulu said Muslim villagers have sought the intervention of the governors and Muslim religious leaders in the region to stop the relocation of the refugees and allow them to return to their original villages.
“These people are not criminals or thieves and should not be further displaced from their original habitats and villages. These people are crying and appealing to us to stop the relocation and all the governors of the ARMM, Muslim religious leaders, and civil society groups are sympathizing with these poor people who are suffering until now,” Tan said.
“We wanted to find a humanitarian solution [to the problems the refugees are facing],” he added.
Just recently, refugees marched to the streets and protested the relocation plan of Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar, saying it would be extremely difficult for them to rebuild their lives.
The villagers, many of them Tausug from Sulu province; Yakan, from Basilan; and the indigenous Badjao tribe from Tawi-Tawi—engaged in fishing and other traditional livelihoods—were being relocated to the far villages of Tulungatung and Taluksangay from their original habitat in the coastal villages of Rio Hondo and Mariki and other areas.
The Zamboanga government, said it has built bunkhouses as temporary shelters to those affected by the violence, but it also warned that villagers who are not natives of Zamboanga would not be allowed to return to their homes, unless they provide certificates to show they are landowners.
However, some of the displaced villagers accused the government of forcing them into relocating and others claimed social workers threatened to cut off relief aid should they reject the government offer to move to the hilly village of Tulungatung and Taluksangay.
On the other hand, many also praised the government for providing them living quarters, saying it greatly helped them rebuild their family and future. Those displaced by the fighting have been herded to a sports complex here, but the poor sanitation in the evacuation site poses a threat to the refugees’ health.