The latest indignity to befall the thousands of Zamboanga residents who were displaced by the fighting that erupted in 2013 between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front troops involves something that many of us in better-developed areas of the country take for granted: water. According to a report in this paper last Wednesday, so dire is the water situation in Zamboanga—due to an extended dry spell caused by El Niño—that people are beginning to fight over the water rations being delivered to affected communities, and the local church has taken to urging parishes to recite a special prayer “until the Pasonanca water dam is filled enough for the daily consumption of our people,” said one priest.
The dam gets its supply of drinking water for residents from the Pasonanca river, which has seen a steep drop in water level because of the drought. The lack of rainwater has reduced the supply’s average flow of about 14,000 cubic meters per hour in previous years to only about 4,000 these days, according to the Zamboanga City Water District (ZCWD), which supplies some 72,000 consumers.
Besides those home-based consumers, unfortunately, are about 4,000 families who, since September 2013, have been living in 11 “transitory” sites after they fled the rampage instigated by Nur Misuari’s men. The MNLF’s bloody mischief, a result of Misuari’s apparent pique at having been excluded from the comprehensive Mindanao peace agreement then being worked out between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, resulted in the torching of several sections of the city, the displacement of about 100,000 people, the deaths of a number of civilians (some of whom were said to have been used as human shields by the MNLF troops), and the closure of the Zamboanga airport.
Zamboanga, the economic hub of the region, ground to a halt and was a barricaded city for about 19 days as government forces battled Misuari’s men. When the assault ended, Misuari was nowhere to be found.
It’s been two years since then, and thousands of refugees have yet to return to their communities; they live in miserable conditions in poorly equipped evacuation centers, all but forgotten now that the media hubbub over the Zamboanga siege has faded. And now they must contend with the desperate lack of water all over the city—a situation where they are in an even more hapless situation. The ZCWD has received reports that water rations intended for the refugees were not reaching their intended target because home-based families, or the permanent residents living around the evacuation centers, were insisting that the water tanks service them first. “We are being prevented by home-based villagers from getting our supply until all the other families were [done] fetching theirs,” said Asikal Asiral, a camp leader at Buggoc, one of the transitory sites. “But we are powerless.”
The government’s indifference to the plight of the Zamboanga refugees has been apparent all this time, but the desperate situation in which the displaced families find themselves these days highlights once again the callousness of state authorities. An even bigger wound is inflicted when news gets around that the fugitive Misuari, for whom there is a standing warrant of arrest for the widespread death and devastation he unleashed on the city, not only remains at large, but is also apparently so untouchable that, just last week, he reportedly led over 2,000 MNLF members and supporters from all over Mindanao at a gathering in Sulu.
The MNLF described the event as a “general leadership meeting,” as if Misuari were only hosting a drab corporate confab. His presence was confirmed by the military, but it said it could not apprehend him because serving him the warrant of arrest for the Zamboanga bloodbath was the job of the police. In Manila, Malacañang was hardly shocked at news of such a high-profile fugitive traipsing around Mindanao and generally making a mockery of the law; it merely said it was up to the Philippine National Police to figure out how to arrest him.
But would that even happen? One Habib Hashim Mudjahab of the MNLF’s Islamic Command Council was reported as saying that the gathering in Sulu was coordinated in advance with local authorities, who must then have agreed to kowtow to Misuari and his powerful band of armed brothers. The victims of the MNLF honcho continue to cry for help and justice, while he lives it up.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.