Badjao tribe losing home at sea
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Presiana Abdusalam longs to go back to her village of Mariki in Zamboanga City. “I want to sleep to the sound of the sea,” the Badjao mother of three said.
In Mariki, all Abdusalam needs to do to have food on the table and earn some money is to wade through the waters during low tide to gather seashells and crabs, or go fishing in deeper waters, 2 kilometers away from her house on stilts.
But for now, she is stuck on land. She and her family are among the hundreds of people staying along RT Lim Boulevard, also known as Cawa-Cawa, after their homes were burned last year during an attack by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels.
Their stay in Cawa-Cawa is again threatened by the city government’s plan to transfer them.
Satulnina Aril, another Badjao evacuee, opts to stay in the crowded evacuation center “because this is near the sea.”
“Relocating us to places far from the sea is like killing us. I feel very, very sad about how our government is treating us,” she added.
Aril said the families were just waiting word from Mayor Isabelle Climaco-Salazar that they could return to their villages in Mariki and Rio Hondo.
Too far, risky
Rio Hondo and Mariki, less than 2 km away from City Hall, are near the villages of Santa Barbara, Kasanyangan and Santa Catalina—the battlegrounds of government forces and MNLF rebels in September last year. Fire of unknown origin razed houses, mosques and even bancas in Rio Hondo and Mariki.
The number of people displaced by the fighting reached 120,000, and the city has relocated them to “transitory sites” in the villages of Tulungatong and Taluksangay.
Tulungatong is a Christian-dominated village 17 km away from the city center. Commuters pay P30 for transport fare and must shell out P20 more for a passenger motorcycle (habal-habal) ride to reach the transitory site, 5 km away from the highway.
The predominantly Muslim Taluksangay is 19 km away from the city center. Transport fare is costlier at P50.
Aril said that aside from threats posed by pirates in nearby Sacol Island, the Badjao faced discrimination in Taluksangay.
In February, the city government offered new sites in the village of Talon-Talon, Mampang and Arena Blanco. But local leaders have opposed the plan in Talon-Talon, which is nearer the city center at 4.75 km, in Mampang (6 km) and Arena Blanco (9 km).
Salazar said all relocation was temporary, unless the law would not allow the evacuees to return to their original homes.
The mayor said that after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” devastated Eastern Visayas last year, rebuilding in areas 40 meters away from danger zones had been banned.
“We await the decision from the [Department of] Environment and Natural Resources,” Salazar said, referring to the rebuilding in areas like Mariki and Rio Hondo, which are surrounded by mangroves and are considered government-protected.
Already, the plight of the Badjao has caught the attention of the nongovernment Change.org, whose online petition has already drawn some 3,000 signatures, according to its director, Honeylyn Alipio.
“Please return the Badjao evacuees to their homes and not in the mountains, or at least consider consulting them first before moving them to any place they think they would not survive in,” the petition said.
“This is inhumane,” Alipio said of the government plan to relocate the sea-based Badjao on land.
Salazar said any relocation should have the consent of the evacuees. “We are not forcing them to move out of the evacuation centers,” she said.
“We are asking the public to support us in this campaign because the city government is trying its best to prevent further deaths if they continue to stay on the shorelines that are not very safe for them,” she said.
Zenaida Arevalo, regional director of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, agreed that the transfer of the Badjao evacuees was voluntary.
“They asked for a transfer to a comfortable place because many are getting sick and dying in Cawa-Cawa,” she said.
Reacting to the online petition, Arevalo said she hoped the signatories would also check on the condition of the relocated Badjao.
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