Sat. May 25th, 2019

ARMM emergency response unit in limbo

File photo: HEART rescuers responding to an emergency in Sultan Mastura, Maguindanao

COTABATO CITY (Feb.28) — Uncertainty hounds the contingent that served no fewer than five million people in disaster and conflict response operations while under the now defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Personnel of the Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team, or HEART, held Thursday what was for them their last staff meeting, unsure if the regional parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will sustain their multi-awarded humanitarian outfit.

The HEART, established in 2013 by then ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, is comprised of rescuers and medical responders trained to serve even in extremely hostile and uncontrolled environments.

Many HEART workers also underwent extensive schooling on offshore rescue operations in the special military training school of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, the largest military unit in central Mindanao.

Myrna Jocelyn Henry, HEART information officer, said Thursday they are now ready to turn over their office and equipment to BARMM’s chief minister, Hadji Murad Ebrahim, who is chairman of the central committee of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Ebrahim is the appointed head of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that would manage the BARMM pending the election of its first set of pioneering officials in 2022.

Hataman turned over to Ebrahim the ARMM government last Tuesday to pave the way for its replacement with an MILF-led BARMM.

Hataman has declined to join the BTA for him to have time for local peace and reconciliation programs in Basilan, his home place.

HEART personnel said Thursday they are still waiting for a written memorandum from Ebrahim on whether to move out or stay for possible retention.

“We have prepared for this. Our former regional governor, Mujiv Hataman, supported the creation of BARMM so we also voted for the ratification of the law that created it, the Bangsamoro Organic Law,” said a Moro rescuer who had worked in towns hit by armed conflicts.

In a text message Thursday, Hataman said he is hoping the BTA will sustain the HEART, known for its efficiency in providing relief and rehabilitation services to calamity and conflict-affected communities.

“These workers have proven their dedication to serve even in difficult situations. Sayang naman yung kanilang mga trainings at experience sa field works. Just the same, it’s really up to the BTA, whose governance initiatives I shall support to the best I can,” Hataman said.

Besides having provided residents of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi with relief services in the past five years, the HEART also aided evacuees from villages in Tacloban and in Leyte in the Visayas that were hit by a powerful storm more than two years ago.

The rapid deployment HEART contingent had also served thousands who were affected by the 2013 siege of Zamboanga City by followers of Nur Misuari, the founder of the Moro National Liberation Front.

The HEART received special citations from local officials in Lanao del Sur and from the governor of the province, Soraya Alonto-Adiong, for attending to the needs of thousands of ethnic Meranaos displaced by the May 23 to October 16, 2017 conflict in Marawi City that the Maute terror group instigated.

Henry said while many of the HEART employees have packed up their things, they are to stay and man their operation center unless ordered by BTA to leave.

“We shall gladly obey because we are staunch supporters of the Mindanao peace process,” Henry said. — John Unson, Philippine Star, February 28, 2019

John Unson

John Unson, The Philippine Star's writer and the president of the Kampilan Defense Press Corps (KDPC) based in Sixth Infantry Division (6th ID) at Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.