“How can we make a living?” Marrudin asked of the city government's plans to transfer thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from their makeshift shelters to inland and upland temporary sites.
Seven months since the Philippine military and the national police ended an armed conflict against rebel forces of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), more than 64,000 people remain displaced across the coastal city. According to an upcoming advisory of the Philippines Commission for Human Rights, the city government lacks genuine consultation with the IDPs and gives inadequate information on resettlement options and various stages of the humanitarian response,
Of the total number of IDPs, an estimated 13,520 live in the Joaquin F. Enriquez Sports Complex, locally known as the Grandstand. Around the corner from the Grandstand, 4,000 IDPs, mostly belonging to the Badjao tribe, live on the shoreline and roadside of Cawa-Cawa. Thousands of IDPs also reside in bunkhouses or are home-based in host communities.
Marrudin, 38, is from the Badjao tribe, an indigenous population whose culture and livelihood are tied to the sea. Their traditional homelands in seaside Rio Hondo and Mariki were entry points used by MNLF rebels during the siege
. The government has since declared parts of these villages as “no-build zones” and designated them for environmental protection under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act.
“There's a double victimization of the Badjao IDPs,” said Carlos Conde, the Philippines researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch. “First they're being victimized as IDPs, then second as Badjao.” "Based on what we're seeing now, their way of life is not being taken into account by the city government," Conde added.
The Badjao are more vulnerable to economic hardship when they cannot fish or gather seaweed to sell, which is the primary source of their earnings on Cawa-Cawa. Their culture is also deeply connected with a seafaring tradition.
“Even though the fighting is over, our hearts still hurt,” said Mirayda Aslani, recalling how her family, including a daughter who is paralyzed, escaped gunfire in their seaside home in Rio Hondo.
“I cry when I think of us jumping out of our house and when I had to throw her into our boat. She couldn't move,” Aslani said.
The seafaring Badjao reside across the Coral Triangle region including the outer islands and coastal areas of the Philippines.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands and a population of more than 100 million people, was struck by armed conflict and two natural disasters last year in the country’s central and southern region. The aftermaths of an earthquake in the island of Bohol, devastation from Typhoon Haiyan and the armed conflict known as the Zamboanga siege linger on in the lives of displaced communities, most of which live on the fringes of Southeast Asia’s fastest rising economy.
In Zamboanga, the city government has been stepping up its efforts to decongest evacuation centers in response to the 113 deaths recorded in temporary shelters. (READ: Kids die in Zambo evacuation camps
Children represented nearly half of mortalities recorded in camps and transitional sites. Diarrhea ranked as the leading cause of the rising death toll. Acute gastroenteritis and pneumonia were also primary causes, but decreased in prevalence in recent months.
“What we want is for us to go back to Rio Hondo directly,” said Muktar Juljain, 24, “[and] not to be shuffled in and out of temporary shelters.”
For now, Badjao families are spending their first days inside the schools of Mampang and Arena Blanco. Goods from the first sari-sari
store inside Mampang Elementary School hung across red metal gates as children mixed donated noodles in plastic cups for breakfast.
There was also another new experience as many of the children and adults sat on school chairs and desks for the first time, not for lessons, but because of a promise that after a month, they will be transferred to temporary bunkhouses and, in 18 months' time, will return to where generations of Badjao before them fished and swam.
As city officials facilitated the dismantling of tents on the middle margin of Cawa-Cawa's roadside, across the street, Hamdurai Sairali held on to a document declaring that her family has lived in Rio Hondo for more than 50 years. But under another column, the Badjao family is considered illegal settlers.
Sairali who is about 40 to 50 years old and only speaks Badjao has trouble understanding the city government's announcements.
“We want to go back to our homes,” she said over the noise of traffic and crackling wood from hands demolishing shelters. “We can't live in the city. We are Badjao.”
Coleen Jose is a multimedia journalist and documentary photographer. She is currently reporting an international series on youth unemployment in the Philippines for the GlobalPost while writing for other publications.
A longer version of this story was originally published on Rappler
, an online news publication based in Manila, Philippines