Bishop blasts govt for ‘hiding’ Zambo refugees

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Refugees from Zamboanga conflict in 2013. (Credit: Claret Parish Zamboanga)

MANILA, August 7, 2015— A bishop cried foul over the reported hiding of refugees in Zamboanga City just before the visit of a top official from the United Nations.

Catholic Archbishop Rolando Tirona, who heads the church’s justice and peace ministry, lamented that the government’s action was already making “making fun of the poor.”

“We should be truthful. We should face the truth and help these people instead of pretending because it’s totally wrong,” said Tirona of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (Nassa).

No basic services

Human Rights Watch said the government removed hundreds of internal displaced persons (IDPs) still housed at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex prior to the visit of Chaloka Beyani, the UN Special rapporteur on human rights of IDPs.

The sports complex served as the biggest evacuation center for thousands of families displaced by the 21-day fighting between the government forces and Moro National Liberation Front rebels in September 2013.

The global human rights watchdog said the siege displaced more than 120,000 people and many were relocated to sites where basic services such as water “are lacking or nonexistent.”

Many IDPs were also opposing the government’s relocation site because it is far away from their places of work.

Most of the refugees were native Badjao who largely depend on fishing for their daily sustenance.

Hiding the poor?

HRW said four days before Beyani’s visit, the government “removed” all the IDPs from the complex, citing a need to repair the facility to relocation centers to the dismay of the UN official.

“I am concerned by some issues including the closure of the Grandstand, where families had taken refuge after the crisis, just prior to my visit without ensuring adequate housing solutions for some families who did not want to move to transitional shelter and wished to return to their original locations,” Beyani said in a statement posted at the UN website.

In January, the government also received flak for allegedly hiding Manila’s poor and homeless during the visit of Pope Francis.

Tirona warned the government that it’s action will have a “boomerang effect” and urged Malacañang to address raised by the UN official.

“It should have been better if they will know that many people are suffering, then we made an appeal and do something to help the IDPs,” the bishop said. “There truth is powerful and you can’t just hide it.” (R. Lagarde/CBCPNews)

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