Philippines: GMA orders relief efforts to evacuees in Maguindanao

MALACAÑANG - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo today ordered the conduct of immediate relief operations to address the plight of families displaced by last week's armed clashes between the government forces and suspected Abu Sayaff Group members in parts of Maguindanao.
The President has directed Secretary Jesus Dureza, chair of the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo) to directly oversee the implementation of relief efforts in Talayan and Guindulungan towns where over 1,200 families are temporarily sheltered at various evacuation centers.

The President issued the directive in the midst of preparations for her State of the Nation Address (SONA), where she is expected to outline major political and economic reforms designed to effect dramatic turnaround for the country.

Dureza is scheduled to fly to Maguindanao on Tuesday morning to lead the distribution of relief items including food and medicines to evacuees temporarily sheltered at Talayan and Guindulungan towns.

Dureza is also set to turnover farming equipment consisting of 4 units of hand tractors and 4 units of turtle power tillers to 12 barangays of Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat. The equipment was provided by the government with support from United Nations Development Programme-European Commission (GOP-UNDP-EC)-funded Programme on Rehabilitating Internally Displaced Families in Southern Philippines or IDP Programme.

The skirmishes erupted in the afternoon of July 11 when elements of the 6th Infantry Brigade of Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division were pursuing heavily armed groups reportedly belonging to the ASG in Sitio Badak, Barangay Tenongos of Datu Odin Sinsuat town.

The armed confrontation lasted until the evening resulting in the evacuation of affected families to nearby barangays of Datu Odin Sinsuat, including the towns of Guindulungan, South Upi and Talayan.

On Thursday, a coordination mechanism in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) previously set-up to coordinate peace and development efforts in the region, was convened to assess the extent of damage and determine the number of families displaced.

The meeting was attended by local leaders, police and military officials as well as representatives from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD ARMM), Office of Civil Defense (OCD-ARMM) and non-government organization groups under the Mindanao Emergency Response Network (MERN).