Evacuees flood Iligan, nearby cities
They survived on the kindness of strangers.
Some 600 families fleeing the ongoing gun battle in Marawi City found food and shelter in five evacuation centers run by the Diocese of Iligan.
Food packs, relief goods and similar aid were being prepared for the more than 3,000 inviduals being cared for in the diocese, said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa), the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
“In the next few days, (we’ll) check the goods needed by the other dioceses helping out,” the Nassa official said on Friday, adding that should funds run out, the group would seek help from Caritas International.
Clashes broke out between members of the Maute group and government forces after the terrorist group overran Marawi City on Tuesday. The ongoing gun battle left 31 terrorists and 13 government troops dead and pushed the city’s residents to flee to the neighboring towns of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.
The Marawi crisis prompted President Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao on Tuesday night and cut short his state visit to Russia early this week.
Cash for OFW families
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) meanwhile said it would provide cash assistance of from P1,500 to P3,000 to families of overseas Filipino workers who had evacuated from Marawi City.
“Our regional director is on the ground in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro determining the amount for the beneficiaries, with the distribution set to happen in the coming week,” said Owwa administrator Hans Leo Cacdac, adding that the funds would come from the replenishable P100-million welfare assistance fund for Owwa members.
In Cotabato City, people came out of the streets offering food and drinks to evacuees fleeing Marawi City to escape the firefight between government forces and gunmen from the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute groups.
Officials said about half of Marawi’s population of more than 200,000 have fled the city since Tuesday when gun battles erupted.
Amer Riga, a resident of Baloi, Lanao del Sur province, posted on his Facebook page several pictures of volunteers handing out food and water to the evacuees on the road on Wednesday night.
Roadside food station
The employee of the Baloi municipal government said that despite the rains, volunteers will continue providing sustenance to the weary evacuees who had endured more than 10 hours of traffic on the road out of Marawi.
Riga, who set up a roadside “free food station” also appealed for donations of food for the displaced families through local disaster offices and government agencies.
By Thursday morning, the food and water donations on the roadside food station has piled up, and included “pastil,” a Mindanao delicacy of cooked rice with chicken.
Gariguez appealed to the government “not just to focus on the firefight, but also on those losing their lives and homes because of the situation.
“We are here to help in the humanitarian response,” he said.
The Nassa official also called on other organizations to help provide pyschosocial first aid to affected residents and the first responders.
But Benedict Balderama, national coordinator of the Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies, said it was difficult for them to determine what help to give because of limited information coming from the region.
Issue of security
“There’s also the issue of security, (not knowing) where it is safe to pass, (and) the logistics of transporting the goods to Iligan and other towns,” he added.
Balderama said the evacuees need sleeping mats, blankets, and other items to help them ward off the cold inside the evacuation centers, as well as water and portable toilets.
Marawi bishop Edwin dela Peña said his diocese was coordinating with the Diocese of Iligan to conduct relief operations with other institutions and partners of the Catholic Church, even as he appealed for prayers “for the safety of the evacuees and those who are still in Marawi City.”
The Diocese of Marbel, the Prelature of Isabela de Basilan and the Diocese of Tagum have also begun their own relief operations for residents of Marawi City. —WITH A REPORT FROM EDWIN O. FERNANDEZ
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