Ongoing offensive costs ARMM P12.3M weekly in emergency funds

John Unson (The Philippine Star) - March 12, 2015 - 6:41pm

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - The emergency funds of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao could run out fast if the regional government will continue to spend P12.3 million weekly for thousands of evacuees in Maguindanao in the next seven weeks.

There are now 72,585 evacuees, mostly children, women and elderly folks, from villages in 11 Maguindanao towns where soldiers and members of the brigand Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) are locked in a face-off since February 28.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, who is overseeing the regional government’s Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART), said they can still sustain the evacuees in the next few weeks using their Special Purpose Fund and Quick Response Fund.

The fund packages are both intended for emergency expenditures and special public service thrusts.

“We also have the commitment of support from international non-government organizations operating in Maguindanao,” Hataman said.

Combined Marine and Army units figured in at least 16 gunfights with marauding BIFF gunmen in six towns in the province since March 1.

Six soldiers, two of them Marine combatants and a captain in an Army Ranger unit, have been killed while 11 others were wounded in the ensuing encounters.

Local officials and barangay leaders said the hostilities left more than 30 BIFF bandits dead, a dozen of them immediate followers of the group’s founder, Saudi-trained cleric Ameril Ombra Kato.

The hostilities had caused the dislocation of thousands of villagers, now confined in relief sites in squalid conditions, where they endure the sounds of gunfire and cannon blasts in the surroundings.

Regional budget officials said there is no problem sustaining the ARMM governor’s relief and rehabilitation activities for thousands of evacuees in the next seven weeks.

Hataman on Wednesday led the joint dispersal of 30 tons of relief supplies by the ARMM-HEART and the Anak Mindanao Partylist to thousands of evacuees in different relief sites in the province, including one near the town proper of Talayan, established just five days ago.

The relief operations last Wednesday was personally assisted by Hataman's wife, Amin Partylist Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman and regional officials led by ARMM Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia. 

Hataman said Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman promised to help sustain the ARMM-HEART’s relief efforts.

“The office of Secretary Soliman already provided 8,000 packs of food supplies for the evacuees,” Hataman said.

Hataman said Army and Marine officials supervising the on-going “law enforcement operation” against the BIFF had asked for a three-day extension, starting Wednesday, of their on-going tactical maneuvers in at least six Maguindanao towns where bandits have been operating with impunity.

The ARMM-HEART has distributed more than 50 truckloads of relief supplies to evacuees in earlier relief missions in conflict-stricken towns.

The affected municipalities - Mamasapano, Datu Salibo, Sharif Saidona, Sharif Aguak, Datu Saudi, Talayan, Datu Anggal, Guindulungan, Datu Unsay, Talitay and Rajah Buayan - are now guarded by Marine and Army combatants backed by armored combat vehicles and 105 Howitzer cannons.

Amir Mawallil, executive director of ARMM’s Bureau of Public Information, said each of the P450 worth food pack distributed to each evacuee, comprised of rice, sardines and noodles, can sustain a family for three days. 

Each of the more than 14, 517 families now confined in relief sites need at least two food packs a week to survive.  

Mawallil said the ARMM government has to allocate no less than P12 million for food assistance alone to support the displaced families.

 “That is apart from the fuel for the vehicles and food of the workers involved in the relief works,” he said.

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