Saturday, September 27, 2014

Foiled plans

I think the cynical saying goes:

Man plans, God laughs. 

In my case this weekend, it's: 

Yen plans, thesis students laugh.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

IDP Situation in Zamboanga City

Below is an article I wrote in July 2014 for Windhover, the official magazine of the Philippine Jesuits. 

While the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the evacuation centers have dropped 10% (25550 in july, 22954 in september), the number of people who died in these centers have increased 20% (139 deaths then, 168 deaths now). 

The massive undertaking of resettling thousands of IDPs is ongoing. The program is in three phases: IDPs at evacuation centers are processed, then they are moved to transitory sites, then finally to permanent resettlement areas. As of July, 1,579 families had been moved to transitory sites. As of a few days ago, 594 more families moved to transitory sites, including 70 Sama Laut families that used to occupy Cawa-Cawa Boulevard. But phase two is far from over: 2,256 families remain at three evacuation centers.


Children of families displaced by the Zamboanga Siege of 2013 frolic in the rain at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex. A year after the siege, over 2,000 families continue to stay at place, in makeshift shelters made of lightweight materials. Photo by Haiko Magtrayo.

The IDP Situation in Zamboanga City
Yen Blanco Delgado
July 9, 2014

The road to recovery is proving to be a long and arduous one for the people of Zamboanga City, the largest city in Southwestern Mindanao. Nine months after a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) attacked residential barangays adjacent to the city’s commercial district, over 25,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) still crowd the evacuation centers and transitory sites, living in subpar conditions.

Since the September 2013 attack, aid workers have recorded 139 deaths among the IDPs. Almost half of those who died are children below five years old.

Haiko Magtrayo, communications officer of the International Organization of Migration (IOM) in Zamboanga City said that while the death rate has started to go down two months ago, the incidence of diseases, especially among children, is rising.

This evacuation center floods at the slightest rain. Photo by Haiko Magtrayo.
There are five evacuation and six transitory sites throughout the city. The Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex has the highest concentration of IDPs, with up to 2,429 families- equivalent to 13, 005 individuals.

Almost half of these families still live in makeshift shelters of tarpaulins, sacks, and other flimsy materials which, nine months since they were hurriedly set up, are now in tatters. The families are exposed to the elements; the ground floods at the slightest rain and the tarps do not offer much protection from the midday sun.

Portable toilets and facilities for bathing and washing at the sports complex are also sub-standard. The ideal ratio of these facilities to the evacuees is 1:50 but in these sites, it reaches far beyond the ideal. These poor living conditions contribute to the high mortality and morbidity rates. The situation is further compounded by the poor health-seeking behaviors of IDPs. Magtrayo laments that despite the presence of health workers in the camps, many of the IDPs seek help for sick family members only when the situation has become very serious.

On top of the health and sanitation issues, humanitarian workers are concerned about the growing number of issues related to security and protection, including human right violations, child trafficking, gender-based violence, domestic violence, and prostitution. These issues surface during focus group discussions involving IDPs and in reports of camp managers. A few months back, the police, together with social workers, apprehended the operators of a prostitution den within an evacuation center. Humanitarian workers, however, fear that these incidents remain largely unreported.

The IDPs, local and national governments, and the humanitarian aid organizations working in Zamboanga agree that immediate resettlement will address many of these problems.

In October 2013, a month after the siege, 125,000 IDPs were recorded. As of June 2014, the number has significantly dropped down to 25,000. Of the 100,000 IDPs who have left the centers, some have chosen to avail of the government’s Balk Probinsya (Back to Province) program—that is, they had gone back to their places of origin. Others, called “home-based IDPs,” have opted to rent a house or live with their relatives.

Of the remaining IDPs, 67% are still in the evacuation centers while only 33% are already in the transitory sites.

 Tagging is the program whereby the government determines which families are the most vulnerable IDPs—victims of either the siege or the flash floods that hit parts of Zamboanga soon after the MNLF attack. This is a tedious process since there are some families who take advantage of the situation by availing of the IDP benefits even if they are not qualified. Only families who are tagged can avail of the shelters or programs such as food for work or cash for work.

Officer Christian Olasiman, who works for Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, however, clarifies that untagged families will not be disregarded—that is, no one will be left behind.

Diseases run rampant at the evacuation centers. Photo by Haiko Magtrayo.
While many IDPs and other residents of the city are disgruntled over the slow pace of resettlement, the local government is still within the 18-month rehabilitation period announced by President Beningo Aquino, Jr.

Moreover, Olasiman said that there have been many roadblocks in the resettlement process. Acquiring land for both transitory site and permanent relocation site is difficult due to the lack of appropriate lots and some legal impediments. In some cases, even if appropriate lots have been found, the government cannot begin the resettlement since the residents in the identified lots oppose the government's move to relocate the IDPs in their area. On the other hand, there have also been instances when the IDPs themselves refuse to move to particular sites for cultural reasons. For one, the sea-faring Badjaos will only live near the sea.

Another unforeseen problem is the lack of building materials brought about by a log ban in the region. Families cannot be moved into a site unless bunkhouses including latrines, community kitchens, water sources, and other facilities are already in place.

Olasiman also stressed that transfer from evacuation center to a transitory site is always voluntary. The government cannot force families to transfer, even if the sites are ready.

The government plans to build 7,248 permanent shelters. This number includes 1,661 Home Materials Assistance (HOMA) packages which will provide Php 30,000 worth of building materials to families who already own their own lots.

In a recent visit to Zamboanga City, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman pledged to give money to lease a 25-hectare property in Kasanyangan, which will be converted into a transitory site for the majority of the IDPs staying at the sports complex. Still in Kasanyangan, the government plans to develop a 38-hectare lot into a permanent shelter site. But so far, only 11 permanent shelter units have been constructed.


Yen Blanco-Delgado is a teacher and journalist. She finished her MA in Journalism at the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism in Ateneo de Manila University. At present, she is Chair of the Department of Communications at Ateneo de Zamboanga University. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Accepting sins

Gab was lurking under the bed, sulking because I scolded him. 

Feeling he has suffered enough, I approached him with my kindliest smile.

So I didn't really expect his reaction. 

Gab cried. bawled, more like.

Gab: don't smile at me! I am still trying to accept your sin! 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

a world war ii veteran's take on the zamboanga siege

husband and kids in tow, i visited my mother's sister this afternoon bearing a box of grocery-bought mamon. i wanted to get my  aunt, she who loves all things sweet, something fancier but the usual place was too out of the way (and in these troubled times, the best route is the shortest route) and the other one would not let me in. apparently, they close shop much much earlier than usual on account of the on-going government versus separatists shoot-off a few kilometers away.

she got flowers and cake for her birthday. because of the gunfight, only five guests or so dropped by.  a stark contrast to the big parties this house is used to hosting since what, the 50s, 60s. growing up, this house was venue to countless family gatherings. 

tita anita celebrated her 94th birthday on the 9th day of the siege, on september 17. i was not able to visit her that day because we were by then on our self-imposed exile, having decided to bring the kids somewhere where there was no threat of bullets straying into our personal spaces.

tita anita is the eldest of 10 children. by the time my mom came along, tita anita was 18 years old. she and her younger sister tita norma were in their final year of nursing school when the japanese army came. they both completed their nursing education in the battlefield. both signed up as army nurses for the US armed forces. when i think ideal nurse, i think of tita anita. for tita anita, nursing was art and craft, a point of pride, not just a way to make a living.

before she goes to sleep each night these days, she says she begs God for two things. first, that if the good Lord decides to take her, let it be while she sleeps. Second, that God does not let it rain because it will make life even harder for the evacuees at grandstand.

"I am not afraid to die," she says without arrogance nor self-pity but rather with her trademark twinkly-eyed smile. "But I wish I were younger so I can go to grandstand and see for myself what is happening there." By that you know she means "what she can do."

once a war nurse, always a war nurse i guess.

more insights from her: she thinks this siege is worse than the japanese invasion. she said that at least, you know who the enemies were during ww2. the japanese wore japanese uniforms, looked Japanese, spoke Japanese. now its not so easy to tell who the enemy is.

my thought exactly.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Celebrating Bombastic Birthdays Since 1972

date when the man who would wound the country most deeply was born? september 11.

date when two planes would slam into the twin towers and forever change the world? september 11.

to my mind, bad things happen on september 11.

it's a good thing i was born on that day. all is not lost.

(by the way, if you don't know who the man i am referring to in the first line above, then you need to review your philippine history man)

and now this MNLF infiltration of zamboanga. i celebrate my birthday on the third day of this siege. the mayor has asked essential businesses to please open their shops already. that would probably mean banks, pawnshops, grocery stores, gas stations. the kids' concern last night was "where will we buy cake tomorrow mama?"

where indeed?

i have a blueberry muffin mix which i guess will do as birthday cake. but i don't have muffin pans. maybe i will just make pancakes, stack them up and poke a candle into it.

no. i did not make this cake. i only have enough time and talent to grab it from a google image search. name of owner is watermarked on the photo.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Currently Doing: Double Checking Emergency Evacuation Kit

the standoff today between the military and MNLF forces reminds me of a day almost 12 years ago when another armed group, the MILF, launched an attack on Zamboanga City from their lair in Cabatangan.

we were living in pasonanca then. ariel and me, and our kids rashdi, then six, and jana, just three months old. the news of a rebel attack broke out early in the morning. soon after, loud explosions, too loud explosions, broke out: guns? bombs? rpgs? all of these?

family and friends called and texted, telling us to evacuate. apparently the rebels were exiting cabatangan via pasonanca. there have been sightings of armed men in or near pasonanca - one such sighting took place at duramos drive, about 15 minutes away from our place.

but where to go? to mommy's place in san roque? the rebels were on their way there too.  the day after the incident, two or three dead rebels were found in the kukalan (coconut farm) behind NFA, two hundred meters or so away from mommy's house. because they were being bombarded, the rebels fanned out from cabatangan to san roque, sta maria and pasonanca. it was not really safe to be travelling.

so we stayed put. while rashdi played and read and jana slept, and ariel monitored the news, i packed and packed and packed. into the baby bag went two cans of infant milk -- one half-full and one unopened. i figured this would last a week or more since i breastfed too. in went diapers. i had less than ideal, not even two dozens. so in went cloth diapers. and laundry soap of course. medicines for fever, colds, cough. vitamins. baby wash, diaper rash ointment.

the bag was bursting at the seams. and that was just jana's stuff. i haven't even put in the water for the formula and some change of clothes.

i take another bag. rashdi's cloths, toiletries and medicines. some books and toys. yikes! how to fit in the nebulizer??? and will there even be power wherever it is we will go if and when we have to go there? in the same bag goes spare clothes for me and ariel, toiletries, medicines. also food (mostly candies and cookies). i filled a 1.5 liter bottle of coke with water. what point carrying a lot of water when i cannot run fast enough from the rebels because of the weight of my bag? my imagination was on overdrive.

i tell the helper to put together something similar for herself.

then we sit and wait.

i think the government started bombing cabatangan near noon. i found out later that my brothers monching and ryan hid mommy inside the toilet because it seemed the planes would shoot their rockets (?) right as they flew over mommy's house and the entire concrete structure would shake.

that incident, the "cabatangan shit" as how my friend cielito likes to refer to it, left a mark on me. from then onwards, there would always be an emergency evacuation bag under our bed.

here is an old picture of its contents:

over the years the kit has improved. i use the red cross emergency kit as basis. the bag now includes a waterproof lamp, lots of batteries, rope, knife, scissors, first aid provisions, a pack of thermal blankets, and a pack of emergency food rations that look like pieces of jenga. seriously. i bet it would taste like jenga too but nevermind since the label says they are full of nutrients and calories and that one piece is sustenance enough for one person for one day. these last two were sent by my sister girlie who all too willingly feeds my paranoia. right now, i am making ariel look for a wind-up radio to add to the kit. there are solar powered radios too but what if the emergency is a typhoon?

from reading a national geographic article on preparing provisions for extreme treks, i have a jar of vaseline and lots of cotton. these mountaineers say candles are useless even inside tents when the tent is located on the side of a mountain constantly buffeted by strong winds. these experts say the best source of light in a pinch is a wick made from rolling cotton then coating it in vaseline. i have not tried it myself but they said it works. i believe them. these are the people who know exactly how to drink urine when you run out of water.

a lot of people who know about my kit think i am insane. you guys should watch the national geographic show Doomsday Preppers. You have not seen insane until you have seen those guys. as for me, i will continue to maintain that bag under our bed. it might not make the MNLF rebels go away, but if my family needs to run away, i feel safer knowing we will have tissue paper with us.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

On your Bookmark, set, go!

i love books. and i love to pimp my books almost as much. no, i don't prostitute my books though there are certainly a lot of prostitutes in some of my books.
 one way i pimp my books is with bookmarks. i am so obsessed with bookmarks - using them and making them - that there was a time, before graduate school took over my life, that i was supplying bookmarks to the bookstore chain, Fully Booked. O di ba?

if you think about it, a bookmark does not have to be anything fancy and expensive. it can be a piece of tissue paper (you can come out now, readers of books in loos), a twig or a blade of grass, or even bread crust. but the same can be said of food. at the human needs level, what is the difference between odong with sardines and pasta pomodoro? take for example the bookmarks that are on these books i am currently reading:

from left to right, the bookmarks are a mailing envelop, a receipt from a gas station, a piece of product packaging, and a folded piece of tissue paper.

(by the way, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is very VERY very funny)

i still make bookmarks to sell. some are over here. but sometimes i make them for personal consumption only. my current favorite, the one that is in between the weirdly fascinating crazy rich asians, is this cheesy tree bookmark:

i know i know. it is terrible painting. and that is why i emphasized personal consumption above.

how i made them is, again, so simple it is stupid.

first i cut lengths of stiff paper from used notebooks.

 then i painted stuff on them with acrylic paints or whatever stuff you have at home - crayons, craypas, housepaint, pens. whatever at all.

the nice thing about fancy bookmarks, homemade or not, is that you tend to have greater respect for them and thus tend to not lose them, as opposed to, say, a piece of Mentos wrapper.