by AL JACINTO
Publish in Manila times
ZAMBOANGA CITY: Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar on Tuesday led the inauguration of government housing units for the victims of last year’s rebel attack that killed and wounded over 400 people.
The commemoration of the siege by members of the Moro National Liberation Front has reopened the bitter memories of the war that raged for three weeks and affected more than 120,000 people in Zamboanga, and hundreds of thousands more in nearby Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
Salazar reminded residents to stay vigilant as she led officials in “Honoring the Heroes, Commemorating the Brave and [Stay] United in Defending the Flag.”
She and other officials led the ground-breaking ceremony of houses on stilts in the village of Mariki following a mass blood donation and the hand-over of 120 newly-built housing units for war refugees in Santa Catalina village.
Catholic churches also rung its bells simultaneously and offered masses followed by candle-lighting.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, who was here recently, has already declared the end of humanitarian stage for war refugees in Zamboanga, but she stressed that government program to ensure total recovery and rehabilitation of those affected by the siege will continue. She did not elaborate.
The stretch of the Roseller Lim Boulevard that was dotted by hundreds of refugee tents has been cleared last week and those that occupied the coastline had been transferred to various bunkhouses in different transitory sites here, although a few thousand refugees still remain inside the sport complex nearby while awaiting new housing units from the government.
Just recently, Salazar also handed over more than 160 duplex housing units to refugees in Santa Catalina.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development also committed to construct an additional 30 bunkhouses at the transitory site in Mampang village that can accommodate over 700 families.
At least 170 refugees had died from diseases in evacuation sites due to lack of sufficient medical and emergency facilities there.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd visited Zamboanga City in December and assured the refugees of the government’s rehabilitation efforts, saying his administration is working closely with various agencies to rebuild houses destroyed during the war.
Aquino said the government already spent some P273.8 million in relief aid and cash-for-work program for those displaced by the fighting and that he allocated an additional P3.5 billion for the rehabilitation efforts here.