Politics delays relief operations in Sulu
DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 April) – Help for thousands of displaced
persons in Sulu has been delayed as politicians, banned from taking a
direct role in the distribution of goods during this election period,
are allegedly hindering the process.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza told a media
forum on ‘Environment as a Peace Issue’ that it took time for relief
groups to firm up operations because local officials who are
candidates for the May 14 elections may take advantage of the
He said there is a convergence of groups distributing relief goods in
the area, among them the Philippine National Red Cross, USAID, World
Food Program (WFP), the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the
Peace Process (OPAPP) and non-government organizations.As of April 21, the Area Coordination Council (ACC) of Sulu had
recorded 10,674 families or at least 50,000 persons displaced. The
displacement was triggered by clashes between government troops and
the Moro National Liberation Front, with whom it signed a “final peace
agreement” in September 1996 but whose implementation has been
problematic it will be the subject of a tripartite review with the
Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Jeddah in July.
MindaNews sources in Sulu, said the problem is not on the part of the
aid agencies but on the politicians.
One example, the sources said, is on the use of the warehouse. The
office of Governor Benjamin Loong reportedly objected to the use of
the warehouse of the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO) by the
United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and recommended instead
another warehouse because the brother of IPHO chief Dr. Farah Tan-Omar
is Sakur Tan, former governor who is running again for governor.
The warehouses proposed by the office of the governor, however, could
not meet the specifications required by the aid agency.
The governor could not be reached for comment. His executive
assistant, Don Loong, could not be reached by phone, too.
“We are using government warehouses,” Alghassim Wurie, WFP deputy
country director, said when MindaNews asked him about the warehouse
problem in a telephone interview Wednesday night.
The WFP’s goods are presently stored in the warehouses of the IPHO,
the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the
Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC).
MindaNews sources said this was the product of a compromise agreement.
But the goods at IPHO will be re-bagged and will remain there for only
one night, the sources said.
Wurie, who is presently in Sulu, told MindaNews they are still
“discussing with partners” on how best to facilitate immediate
assistance to the evacuees.
The WFP is initially distributing 3,402 sacks of rice and mongo beans.
Wurie said they were able to visit a school-turned-evacuation center
in Indanan, Sulu Tuesday. He said he saw “mostly women and children.”
On April 19, the WFP announced in a press statement that it would
provide 1,700 bags of rice to assist the then 42,000 villagers
displaced by the conflict in seven towns of Sulu.
Another problem faced by aid agencies is determining exactly how many
evacuees there are, to guide them on the number of goods to procure.
Cocoy Tulawie of the Consortium on Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS)
told MindaNews that his group decided to just focus on the “least
served areas,” those hardly reached by government or international
He said they tapped local donors and managed to serve 250 families
last week and “hopefully serve another 600 families this Saturday.”
Dureza told the media forum in Davao City that they were able to come
up with an arrangement for the Philippine National Red Cross to lead
the distribution in Sulu and for the Department of Social Welfare and
Development to assist.
He said they have to make sure politicians are not in the frontline
because it is a prohibited act during elections. But Dureza
acknowledged it is more difficult because it is actually the local
government units led by many incumbent officials who are in touch on
Dureza said orders had been issued for relief operations to proceed on
condition that no politician would take part.
He said AFP chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon had ordered a
deceleration of military operations against the group of MNLF
commander Habier Malik to allow relief operations. He said they could
not stop the operations because the pursuit against Malik is based on
his criminal acts. The military has accused Malik of bombing a Marine
camp in Panamao, Sulu. (Carolyn O. Arguillas and Walter I.