Surigao del Sur Children Want to Go Home for Christmas

Poor sanitation, lack of water supply, malnutrition, poor resistance to diseases and heavy congestion continue to threaten the health of evacuees in Surigao del Sur. “They experience not only human rights violations,” a human-rights advocate said. “Their basic right to health services is also not being answered by government.”

BY GERMELINA A. LACORTE
Davao Today
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 44, December 9-15, 2007

DAVAO CITY—After spending 18 days in a crammed gymnasium, displaced Manobo children in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur are appealing to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to put a stop to the ongoing military operations so that they can finally go home for Christmas.

In a Christmas card they’re sending the President, Mary Ann Garay, 11; Alcelyn Rodriguez, 10; Jeffrey Prado, 13, have expressed their Christmas wish to return home “peacefully” and “secured” as they asked the President to pull out the military troops in the area.

The children took part in a psycho-social activities organized by the Kabiba Children’s Alliance, as part of the recent fact finding and medical mission led by different ecumenical groups to the different evacuation sites in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, where intense military operations are ongoing in areas surrounding Andap Valley.

Over 2,000 people have been displaced after armed troops belonging to the 58th Infantry Battalion entered their area last month allegedly in pursuit of the Communist New People’s Army (NPA). But teachers of the alternative lumad learning school based in Janipaan said the soldiers have been disrupting classes and have been living inside the residents’ houses, prompting the residents to flee.

Honey Mae Suazo, Kabiba spokesperson, said 150 children between two to 17-years-old, joined their psychosocial activity. She described most of the children as “deeply traumatized.”

Sr. Elsa Compuesto, MSM, executive secretary of the Sisters’ Association of Mindanao (Samin), said diseases are beginning to break out in heavily congested evacuation sites; where in one of them, a woman had given birth prematurely because of stress. “After 18 days inside the crammed evacuation site in Diatagon Gym, many of the evacuees are getting sick,” said Compuesto, “A woman gave a premature birth seven days after she arrived at the gym. She was obviously stressed out after having hiked more than 20 kilometers just to reach town only to take refuge in a place that hardly gives her any amount of comfort.”

Evacuees in Diatagon Gym, one of the most congested evacuation sites, over 1,000 evacuees have to share two toilets, which have clogged and malfunctioned, said Kristine Gimongala of the community-based health service, who participated in the medical mission.

Poor sanitation, lack of water supply, malnutrition, poor resistance to diseases and heavy congestion continue to threaten the health of evacuees inside these evacuation sites, she explained. “They experience not only human rights violations,” she said, “Their basic right to health services are also not being answered by government.”

She said that diarrhea and pneumonia and influenza have become a common disease among the four evacuation sites the mission visited in Buhisan and Diatagon. A one-year-old baby was rushed to the hospital because of pneumonia but was denied medical attention because the hospital allegedly lacked facilities. Gimongala said that the elderly among the evacuees also showed stress-related diseases like indigestion and hypertension.

Lianga mayor Vicente Pedroso had earlier told residents to go home but the Manobo evacuees said they still fear for their safety because of their past experiences with the military.

Jona Marza, 16, recalled her sad experience in 2005, when her cousin, Jessie Bacasmas, was killed when the soldiers arrived. He was hauling their things into a truck on their way out of the area. Waves of evacuations in the sitios (sub-vuilalges) of Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur started on November 21 to November 24, because of heavy presence of soldiers in the area. Residents, mostly Manobos, took shelters in elementary school buildings in Libas, Janipaan and Buhisan; in a barangay (village) hall in Karas-an and a gymnasium in Barangay Diatagon. Davao Today / Posted by Bulatlat

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