Fighting displaces 44,000 in Jolo

By Carolyn O. Arguillas, Chief, PDI Mindanao Bureau, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26 September 2000

JOLO, Sulu-At least 44,000 residents in seven towns have been displaced by the ongoing military operations in the province, but relief and health workers have served less than half the number.

This was announced yesterday by Maj. Gen. Narciso Abaya, commander of Task Force Trident, the unit assigned to destroy the Abu Sayyaf bandits and rescue their remaining 17 hostages.

Dr. Nelsa Amin, Sulu health chief, told reporters that the effect of the military assault on the Abu Sayyaf was a disaster not only to the bandit group but also to civilians.

Because of it, so many evacuees are now in different outlying municipalities, she said.

Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan said evacuation centers had been put up in the towns of Parang, Maimbung, Indanan, Talipao, Panamao, Luuk and Patikul.

Amin warned that medicines were running low. She said she feared an outbreak of diseases in the evacuation centers, and pointed out that health workers could not get to these places without clearance from the military.

Even I cannot go just anywhere in the different municipalities without a certification of approval from the military. Their reason is our safety, she said.

Asked by the Inquirer to compare the war in the 1970s and the present situation in terms of the delivery of health services, Amin said: It's more difficult now. The evacuees are in different places and our movement is limited.

She said she understood the military's concern for her safety. But she said it was very difficult for her and her team to go to other areas where there are more evacuees waiting for our service.

Amin said health personnel were only allowed two-day passes to certain areas in the hinterlands.

These passes may be renewed subject to certain security procedures.


At a press briefing, Abaya said the government had served 3,165 family heads with 14,099 dependents, or 17,264 evacuees. That left 4,678 family heads with 22,214 dependents, or 26,892 evacuees, unreached.

The figures do not include the number of civilians who have fled areas in Basilan where members of the Abu Sayyaf were reportedly sighted.

In Manila, Vice President and Social Welfare Secretary Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday reported to Press Secretary Ricardo Puno, that 7,696 families (34,231 residents) in Sulu had been affected by the military operations.

So far, she said, relief and social workers had served 14,221 people from 3,205 families.

Macapagal also said the government had spent close to P1 million in relief assistance for the evacuees.

Of the P991,810 in relief assistance, she said, the Department of Social Welfare and Development spent the most at P831,800.

I expect the number of evacuees to rise, Amin said, adding that most of those displaced were staying in the houses of their relatives.

She said her workers had visited evacuees in Talipao, Patikul, Indanan and Jolo.

As of Sept. 22, she said, there were 921 evacuees in Indanan, 76 in Patikul and 76 home-based in Jolo. There were no data from Talipao.


Amin said the common ailments at the evacuation centers were urinary tract infection, gastritis, upper respiratory tract infection, pulmonary tuberculosis, pneumonia and malaria.

She lamented the limited passes given to health personnel, saying that what she wanted was for them to be assigned forever in their areas because they are from there.

Amin said the Parang mayor had written that medical teams were needed there. But the problem is the clearance. We have to get the clearance from the military, she said.

She suggested that Health Secretary Alberto Romualdez discuss the matter with Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes so health personnel could attend to the evacuees quickly.

Reyes yesterday told reporters in Manila that the people of Sulu must bear with the effects of the military assault if they wanted a more lasting peace.

He said even the evacuees he had talked with expressed satisfaction over the government's decision to launch the assault against the Abu Sayyaf.

He also said that he had visited one evacuation center, and that the situation there and in other areas was not as difficult or as dismal as many would want to portray.

But at the Pangolina Mama Elementary School in the village of Tagbak, the evacuees sleep on the cold concrete floor at night and relieve themselves in the bushes outside.

Indanan resident Nurhaida Pasihan said: We left our home because we feared the bombs would kill us. They are using artillery.

Pasihan, 30, spoke with reporters as she cradled her baby. The hungry child, clad in an oversized shirt, wailed intermittently, but the mother could only offer water.

We don't have much and the water is not very good. We depend on dole-outs. Our husbands go out in the morning to attend to the farm but we are worried. They may be shot or caught in the crossfire. So many times there is no money and no food, she said.


As military tanks and planes continued to hunt the bandits in the mountains in Sulu, hundreds of residents swarmed the Jolo police station to secure cedulas (barangay residence certificates).

It is not safe if you don't have a cedula, said resident Nurjilon Anggoh, as he stood yesterday in a long queue outside the station.

You can be mistaken for an Abu Sayyaf and be arrested by the military, he said, referring to the checkpoints that the military had put up on all the roads in Sulu to prevent the bandits from escaping.

Anggoh told the Inquirer that the soldiers at the checkpoints constantly asked residents for their cedulas. Those who had nothing to present were suspected of being members or sympathizers of the bandit group.

This is our defense at the checkpoints, he said, adding that he had paid P50 for his cedula-P20 as barangay fee and P30 for three color pictures of himself.

Anggoh said cedulas were also the residents' ticket to leave Sulu.

He said the military was requiring residents to present cedulas before being allowed to board Navy ships and Air Force C-130 planes bound for Zamboanga City.

The ships and planes have been serving as the residents' sole means of transportation since the military banned commercial passenger vessels to and from Sulu on Sept. 16.

Chief Insp. Mohammad Noe Alamia, Jolo police chief, said more than 3,000 Jolo residents had been issued police clearances from Sept. 22 to 25.

This clearance, issued for free, is one of the requirements for a cedula.

Earlier, the Jolo police station was issuing clearances to an average of 10 people a day, but now the volume has jumped to more than 500. We even have to work overtime, Alamia said.

He said it was the Sulu Provincial Peace and Order Council who last week directed all residents to secure police clearances and cedulas.

Ustadz Saad Yusah, spokesperson of the Federation of Muslim Religious Leaders, Professionals and Youth in Jolo, said getting a cedula was an additional financial burden.

But Jolo town administrative resident Sharif Alunan Hairal said it was a small price to pay to stamp out the Abu Sayyaf.

The situation was worse in February 1974 when Moro separatists attacked Jolo. The military then arrested anyone who had long hair or a mustache, said the 63-year-old Hairal. With reports from Froilan Gallardo, PDI Mindanao Bureau; Christine AvendaƱo and Carlito Pablo in Manila