Bakwet: The darker side of the Zamboanga crisis

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ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – “My baby won’t stop crying. I think he is still in shock after hearing the gunfire and explosions,” said 37-year-old Minang Hasim.

Hasim and her family were among those who left their homes in the coastal village of Rio Hondo when the firefight between state security forces and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels erupted last Monday, September 9.

She narrated that when the skirmishes started they were only able to grab a few possessions and immediately left their house on stilts.

“We took off going to the higher ground from the coastal area but the soldiers stopped us explaining that we cannot pass,” Hasim said.

Hasim explained that they were left with no option but to go to the sea and use bangkas and vintas to escape the gun battle.

“We left at around 4 in the afternoon and it was already dark when we arrived at the boulevard area,” Hasim said.

The small vessels have no motors, Hasim said, forcing everyone to use anything and even their hands just to help paddle.

For those who have no vessels, they were accommodated by families who still have space in their bangka. But some also charged them for their fare.

“P100 per adult and P50 per child,” Hasim shared.

Their community was one of the areas razed during the hostilities.

Hasim and her family now stay at the city’s sports complex along with at least 44,000 displaced residents. Around 18,000 others are staying in different evacuation centers.

Food 'late, not enough'

The bleachers were transformed into living quarters while the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) erected huge tents in the grounds. Some residents are also staying in makeshift tents using whatever materials they can get while others opted to stay with their bangka at the seaside.

As the conflict dragged on and is now on its 7th day, displaced residents complain that they are now having a hard time inside the evacuation centers.

“Food distribution is always late and it always not enough,” Hasim said.

She shared her experience when she stood in line to get their breakfast and was able to claim it just in time for lunch.

“Sometimes we have to skip a meal because those who are distributing the food says there is no more food. We cannot do anything. I just look at my children and cry,” Hasim said.

But the DSWD Region 9 ensured that there is an enough supply of relief goods to address the needs of the residents.

“We do not have shortage on the supply. Our problem is with the preparation. It is not easy to prepare for 44,000 people,” said Narrabelle Bue, DSWD- Region 9 public information officer.

The agency is now mobilizing displaced parent leaders from the Pantawid Pamilya Program to help in the kitchens as part of the cash for work framework.

Bue also appealed to non-government organizations and civil society organizations to donate cooked food instead of other items so that it will be easily distributed.

“I hope this war will soon end. We want to go back to our community and rebuild our homes and lives. I hope the government will help us stand back again,” Hasim commented. – Rappler.com