By Juseph Elas
The Philippine Flag at Plaza Rizal waves majestically in sync with the Western Mindanao winds; standing witness to the city’s new found hope to rebuild its foundations following the insurgency and atrocities the booted and armed members of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Misuari faction brought into the city on that morning of September 9, 2013.
As of October last year, the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MHRC) reported a total number of 116,865 individuals displaced to Don Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex (DJFEMSC) or Grandstand (source: DSWD Ops Cen). The local government then launched the “Build Back Better Zamboanga” campaign and immediately catered the needs of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) on different evacuation centers, Grandstand being the largest.
In retrospect, nine months after the siege, the time period when the number of evacuees declined from to 25,000 individuals, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman alongside with foreign donors – Canadian Ambassador Niel Reeder and representatives from New Zealand, Australia, Spain, USA and Japan and officials from various UN agencies – came to Zamboanga to assess the rehabilitation efforts of the city government and to see what areas needed augmentations.
In a news published in Zamboanga Times, the foreign donors came impressed in the rehabilitation efforts of the city and “pledged their continued support through interventions by various agencies. The support would guarantee constant programs and projects related to health and sanitation, water, livelihood and temporary shelters.”
It was at that time, also, that the plan for the Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction or Z3R was being deliberated for complete realization. The Z3R is being taken care of Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), National Housing Authority (NHA) and other national agencies in coordination with the local government of Zamboanga, humanitarian agencies. Whilst the Department of Health and DSWD is in charge of looking into the humanitarian needs of the IDPs.
Despite all the pledges and help the national government is giving in the city’s rehabilitation efforts, Mayor Beng Climaco continues to cite in her report the challenges the city is still confronting. In an another report published in Zamboanga Times, “Mayor Beng stressed that the city requires constant support and assistance from the national government and the UN agencies and partners to help ensure better future for the displaced.”
Building Back a Better Zamboanga
A couple of months before the anniversary of the crisis, rehabilitation projects continue to rise from ground up and are being realized. A sign that Zamboanga is moving forward.
Mayor Beng Climaco called the city’s humanitarian partners for an intensification of the healing process for the children and family who suffered trauma brought by the siege of September last year.
Quoting the mayor’s words from a report published in Zamboanga Times, the mayor said, “Our children seem to mourn the loss and suffer from the tragedy, hence we need to intensify the healing process so that Christian Lumad and Moslem children and families can find solace and move on from the tragedy 10 months ago.”
On a different note, City Planning and Development Coordinator, Eng. Rodrigo “Jojo” Sicat said that phase one of the Z3R project includes a number of 3,421 on-going shelter units which is 47.20 in percentage. In status quo, 38% of the shelter units is already realized and are now being used by the IDPs.
Early August of this year, IDPs residing at Cawa-Cawa were relocated to sitio Buggoc in Barangay Kasanyangan. In lieu with this, the center isles in R.T. Lim Boulevard including the sidewalks staring from Zamboanga City National High School-West down to the sidewalk fronting the grandstand were cleaned and restored to its old state.
Recently, Public Works Secretary, Rogelio Singsong, visited the city to inspect the implementation of the Z3R projects. The secretary convened with government officials, to include Mayor Beng Climaco and Congresspersons Celso Lobregat and Lilia Nuño, where he said that “the instruction of the president is to fast track the projects.”
On the other hand, the NHA is expected to turn over at least 42 duplex loftable housing units at the Martha Homeowners Association in Martha, Sta. Catalina. It was announced during the inter-agency meeting with Sec. Singson that the turnover will be done on August 21.
In a report published on August 18, “NHA Regional Director Al Indanan assured that the housing units including the water and light connections and other amenities would also be in place on the day of the turnover.” Whilst a total of 120 housing units at the Paniran HOA also in Sta. Catalina will also be ready for turnover on September 9.
Reconstruction of the Grandstand
Assistant City Administrator, Dr. Elmier Apolinario, said that the first step in reconstructing and rehabilitating the grandstand is to transfer first the IDPs to transitory sites.
Sec. Singson asked Dr. Apolinario about his timetable for rehabilitating the complex and he said “I first have to relocate all the IDPs on the ground, those who are vulnerable. I guess by October or November, we’ll be able to relocate those IDPs there and only then the second phase of rehabilitating the complex can start.”
Dr. Apolinario disclosed in an interview that they already have a budget and a plan for reconstructing and rehabilitating the sports complex. But they will really have to clear the whole sports complex of IDPs first before they can start the phases of rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Mayor to Critics
Nearly a year after the crisis, the government is on all fours in building back a better Zamboanga but the Climaco administration is continuously being lambasted for its seemingly slow response to rehabilitate and reconstruct the city.
In a report published in Zamboanga Times, Mayor Beng counters critics saying “In times of problems, I want everyone to know, using integrity and transparency, that I, as mayor of the City of Zamboanga, will do all with God’s grace to ensure that we, with your help, will be able to rebuild and build back a better Zamboanga for the future of our children.”
Mayor Climaco emphasized that the local government is closely coordinating with the national government and other agencies concerned in the recovery and rehabilitation efforts following the September 2013 siege.
The mayor understands that a lot of people are growing impatient after going through a crisis like what happened in September of last year. Even Sec. Singson said that the transferring of IDPs from evacuation centers to transitory sites could not be done hastily. But with the cooperation of the national government, the rehabilitation and reconstruction partners, the people of Zamboanga, Zamboanga will once again rise from the ruins that once brought her down to her feet.
It’s hard to rise from the humanitarian crisis brought by the insurgency of the MNLF and one year is not enough to clear the scars it brought. One side of the whole picture is already cleared is being restored, the other side is still hanging. But the wheel is moving, it might slow down at times but at least it’s moving.
In a forum last month, Mayor Beng said, “In times of problems, I want everyone to know, using integrity and transparency, that I, as mayor of the City of Zamboanga, will do all with God’s grace to ensure that we, with your help, will be able to rebuild and build back a better Zamboanga for the future of our children.”