Indian Catholic News

Displaced Mindanao tribe faces acute water shortage

More than 1,500 people crammed into gymnasium after fleeing Philippine military fear sanitation-related diseases.

Displaced tribal people seek temporary shelter inside a sports gymnasium in the village of Diatagon in the southern Philippine province of Surigao del Sur. (Photo supplied)
Surigao del Sur : 

With only one clogged toilet and no water for washing and cooking, 328 Philippine tribal families who fled their homes due to military anti-rebel operations in Mindanao on July 17 say they are facing serious health issues.

The 1,607 people, including 568 students and 48 teachers from eight tribal schools, have sought shelter inside a gymnasium in the village of Diatagon in the southern Philippine province of Surigao del Sur.

It took ten hours for them to walk from their communities to the center of the village because of military checkpoints along the way.

"We were stopped three times," said Zaldy Sanchez, spokesman of the tribal group Mapasu.

Upon reaching the center of the village they said they had to wait another two hours because officials initially refused to allow them inside the gymnasium.

"We had to appeal to them to at least give the children shelter," Sanchez said.

"Our problem now is that the gym has only one toilet, and it is clogged most of the time," he said, adding that there was no water to wash with or drink.

The villagers have had to flee their homes for fear for their lives on several occasions, according to Sanchez.

In September 2015, at least 4,000 people left their homes after a paramilitary group called Magahat-Bagani killed a teacher and two tribal leaders.

In 2017, the same communities were again forced to flee due to military operations, attacks against tribal schools, and reports of drones hovering above their dwellings.

"The aim of the evacuation is to protest, not because their lives are in danger," said Capt. Rodolfo Cordero, civil-military operations chief of the army's 401st Infantry Brigade.

He said there is no ongoing military operation in the communities, adding that the exodus is an "organized evacuation" spearheaded by the Mapasu group.

The military official said the organization, whose full name in English means "Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation," is out "to discredit the government."

Cordero denied reports that aid and food for the community were being blocked, adding that soldiers are only implementing "security measures" because of the presence of armed individuals among the evacuees.

Human rights group Karapatan reported that the people were forced to leave their communities after a series of abuses perpetrated by the military.

The group said community leaders were also threatened with imprisonment on "trumped-up charges" while teachers and students in tribal schools were prevented from holding classes.

Source: UCAN

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