Amid BIFF threats, health workers tend to 6,000 evacuees
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - March 7, 2015 - 11:52am

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines — Thousands of evacuees in squalid conditions suffer from ailments while enduring the sound of gunfire.

Army and civilian health workers on Friday provided medical and dental services to 6,429 evacuees in relief missions amid sporadic clashes between bandits and pursuing soldiers that forced more villagers to relocate to safer areas.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman on Saturday said he was elated with the turnout of Friday's joint humanitarian missions of the ARMM government, the Armed Forces and the provincial government of Maguindanao in towns which government forces are trying to clear from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Local officials and barangay leaders have confirmed that 14 members of the outlawed BIFF were killed while nine soldiers were wounded in a series of firefights in three adjoining Maguindanao towns Friday afternoon.

READ: Nine soldiers hurt in BIFF retaliatory attacks

The ARMM's Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART) and representatives of the military's Task Force Kalinga, some of them physicians from Army units outside of Mindanao and medics from component-battalions of the 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao, treated sick evacuees in Datu Saudi, Rajah Buayan, Mamasapano, Sharif Aguak, and Saidona towns during relief missions on Friday.

Medical personnel of the 6th ID and relief teams from the Office of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, led by provincial budget officer Lynette Estandarte, also separately provided medical and dental services to 867 evacuees in three different evacuation sites.

"Some of us heard exchanges of automatic gunfire in the surroundings of the areas where we initiated humanitarian missions. Scary, but the gunshots and grenade blasts did not weaken our resolve to serve the evacuees," Estandarte said.

The provincial government has distributed 16 truckloads of food supplies and other relief provisions to evacuation sites in nine Maguindanao towns since February 28.

Physician Kadil Sinolinding, Jr., regional health secretary of ARMM, said as of Saturday, 1,749 of the more than 40,000 villagers displaced by the BIFF-military strife in nine Maguindanao towns have been afflicted with diseases while confined in squalid evacuation centers.

"Some of them were diagnosed as suffering from pneumonia and other infections that needs immediate antibiotic therapy," Sinolinding said.

Thousands have also been afflicted with ailments caused by stress and anxiety, Sinolinding added.

"Many of them have mouth sores, painful joints, gastric pains and body malaise which are common signs of fatigue and stress," Sinolinding said.

In separate statements Friday, Mangudadatu, Hataman and Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo appealed to authorities to help prevent innocent civilians from getting trapped in the crossfire between marauding BIFF bandits and soldiers running after them.

The military's hunt for BIFF bandits began February 28, after the group showed force along stretches of the Cotabato-Gen. Santos Highway in Maguindanao's adjoining Datu Saudi and Datu Unsay towns.

Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of 6th ID, said he is thankful to the ARMM-HEART and the office of Mangudadatu for providing mobility and augmenting the personnel and resources of Task Force Kalinga while carrying out its relief and rehabilitation operations in Maguindanao.

The joint Maguindanao local government, ARMM-HEART and military relief missions will continue in the next seven days.

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