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SONA Fact Check: 25,000 still in Zambo evacuation centers

MANILA, Philippines – Ten months since the bloody September 2013 Zamboanga City siege, a total of 25,498 Zamboangueños or 4,776 families are still in various evacuations centers.

They are still waiting for government's promise to rebuild their homes that were destroyed in a series of fires inside the combat zone, although the President boastted in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 28, that the government will finally start turning over houses to the victims in August.

Most of the displaced families – 12,996 Zamboangueños or 2,428 families – have been living in bunkhouses and temporary shelters in the city grandstand, the Joaquin F. Enriquez Jr Sports Complex, based on a July 21 status report of the Zamboanga City Public Information Division. Over 2,000 more families are temporarily renting houses or are staying with relatives.

Among them were hostages taken by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander Habier Malik and a few hundreds of his followers when they swooped into the coastal villages of Zamboanga City on September 9, 2013. The standoff with government forces lasted 20 days.

The President said in his SONA that he allocated P3.89 billion to rebuild Zamboanga City.

"Pagpasok nga po ng Agosto, magsisimula nang lumipat ang mga apektadong pamilya sa mga permanenteng bahay sa Martha Drive Subdivision," he said. (In August, affected families will start moving into their permanent houses in Martha Drive Subdivision.)

The President's promise is only for the 45 families in Martha Drive, however, although an additional 150 families might be fortunate enough to have their houses too under another project. The rest – thousands more of families – will have to wait longer. 

"'Yung Martha Drive ang kinommit ng Presidente. July 5 ang official start. Ang completion ay November 1. 'Yung contractor, gusto makatulong sa fire victims ng Zamboanga kaya nag-commit sa NHA na pilit tatapusin ng end of August," Engineer Al Indanan, district manager of the National Housing Administration, told Rappler in a phone interview. 

(It was Martha Drive that the President committed to. The construction started on July 5 and the supposed completion is November 1. But the contractor wants to help the fire victims of Zamboanga, so it committed to NHA that it will finish the project by the end of August.) 

Indanan said 36 units are now in various stages of construction. All 45 units will be finished by the end of August. (Two families did not wait for the government's housing assistance and rebuilt their houses by themselves.)

Indanan said the Paniran resettlement involving 150 units may be finished within August, too. The original target of completion was January 2015.

It's a total of 195 units that may be turned over in August. 

The others, including the thousands of families at the grandstand, will have to wait for their permanent houses until June 2015.

Most of those in the grandstand are residents of Barangay Mariki, the intended beneficiaries of a housing-on-stilt project. Indanan said they will soon be transferred to a resettlement area in Barangay Kasanyangan near the Paniran resettlment. 

This is "to fully decongest and close existing evacuation centers," said the city government.

Indanan said they couldn't get to work immediately because clearing operations by the military only ended in December 2013. When they conducted legal research in January, they discovered complications with the land titles. The bidding process only started in April this year and the construction in July. 

Malik and hundreds of followers swooped into Zamboanga City hoping to take over the "Independent Bangsamoro Republik" at city hall and take over the city.

In a phone interview with Rappler, Malik protested the peace deal with rival group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on the ground that it would supercede the government's agreement with the MNLF.

Military statistics show 183 MNLF fighters, 18 soldiers, 5 cops, and 12 civilians were killed in the standoff. A total of 195 hostages were rescued and 292 MNLF fighters either surrendered or were captured.

There were mixed reports on what happened to Malik. There are those in the military who believe he was killed inside the combat zone. Others believe he was able to escape but eventually died because of his injuries. 

MNLF founder Nur Misuari, on the other hand, and the arrested MNLF fighters are facing rebellion charges. Misuari remains at large. –