War-displaced kids want to go home
DAVAO CITY, Philippines—Sick, hungry, and often unable to sleep, children in evacuation sites in Maguindanao were hoping the all-out war declared by the military against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) would be over so they could go home and live normal lives again, according to a report on a humanitarian mission led by the groups Kawagib and Suara Bangsamoro.
The report, released on Friday, was based on interviews with 152 children, aged one to 13, who joined the groups’ psychosocial activities in barangays Dapiawan and Madia of Datu Saudi Ampatuan town. The groups managed to enter the congested evacuation centers in some barangays in Datu Saudi and Shariff Aguak towns from March 10 to 13.
According to the report, some of the children were suffering from chicken pox, rashes, coughs, colds and fever, while others had diarrhea because of the unsafe drinking water at the evacuation centers.
“We might be able to escape the bullets, but hunger and fear might slowly kill us,” nine-year-old Raissa said. The mission’s psychosocial team said even adults in the evacuation sites were showing symptoms of severe depression, anxiety and trauma.
In sitio Kulneto in Barangay Timbangan in Shariff Aguak town, the mission’s medical team warned against the onset of bacterial and viral diseases because of shortage of food, lack of safe drinking water and congestion.
According to the report, Dr. Hasmine B. Macaraya-Sumandar and Dr. Sittie Aysha Iba of the Cotabato Regional Medical Center, had served a total of 163 patients, mostly children, during their more than three hours’ stay in Sitio Kulneto. Most of the patients suffered from upper respiratory tract infection because of the poor shelter facilities, where they were exposed to the heat, dust, and the odor of animal feces during daytime, and the cold wind at night.
The mission said there was a marked absence of local health stations in all the evacuation centers they visited, and suggested that local health agencies increase the frequency of their visits to the sites.
It added that the government’s all-out war against the BIFF had become an attack on civilian communities, with affected civilians swelling to over 93,000, and still growing.
Quoting barangay officials, the report said government forces fired mortars and dropped bombs indiscriminately, making the civilians think they were the actual targets of the attacks, and leading them to question the use of artillery though there was no verified presence of the BIFF in their area.
The report also described how the military offensive had practically transformed the civilian communities into a war zone, with its encamped near the evacuation center and the barangay hall in barangay Madia. The Marine Landing Battalion Team 8 of the Philippine Marines had also installed 81 millimeter mortars in the area on March 11, the report added.
In Cotabato City, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao government said it will embark on a campaign to gather at least one million signatures for peace, with the campaign launched during the commemoration of the March 18 Jabidah massacre.
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