A week after a series of strong earthquakes hit several provinces in the southern Philippines, tribal people in hinterland communities continue to await much-needed help.
Reports reaching the capital said about a thousand families belonging to the Manobo tribe living at the foot of Mount Apo, the country’s highest mountain, are staying in open fields for fear of aftershocks.
They fled their communities after their homes were reported buried by landslides.
With no government identification cards, they have a difficult time accessing help from government evacuation centers.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council estimated that about 20,000 people have already sought shelter in government-run evacuation centers.
Authorities said that aside from those in temporary shelters, more than 146,700 people from 150 villages in central Mindanao and nearby Davao region were also affected.
“We are staying in an open space a little over a kilometer away from the city of Kidapawan,” said Marla Dinogo, a tribal youth leader.
She said that aside from makeshift protection from the rain, the people have nothing to protect them from the elements.
“When it rains the place gets flooded, so we had to spend the night with our wet belongings,” she told UCA News in a telephone interview.
She said several people, especially young children, already have fever. “We are in dire need of medicine,” said Dinogo.
Some local residents have donated food, but Dinogo said these might not be enough.
“We prefer to stay in the open,” she said, adding that people are afraid to go to government-designated shelter.
“We are not comfortable in enclosed, crowded areas,” she said. Dinogo said they are in need for tents and materials for shelter.
The delivery of relief goods has become challenging because the tribal families chose to camp outside town centers.
Dinogo had to walk for hours to Kidapawan to see if she could get some assistance.
Leticio Datuwata of the non-government Mindanao People’s Peace Movement said they are trying to coordinate with other groups to assess the number of tribal people affected by the disaster.
“We have received reports that there are still families trapped in the mountain and could not come down,” she said.
Military rescue helicopters were earlier able to airlift some families but Datuwata said there are more people who are not accounted for.
In one village in the province of Cotabato, at least 720 tribal families have already been brought to evacuation centers.
Catholic Church leaders appealed earlier for help for the victims of the series of earthquakes that struck parts of Mindanao.
“Please, again, let us show our spirit of charity and solidarity,” said Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the country’s bishops’ conference, in a statement.
In several affected towns and villages, government and private groups struggle to distribute relief goods to stricken areas that have been cut off by landslides.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development was coordinating with the military to fly relief supplies, including food packs, sleeping kits and tents.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has earlier ordered the military to check all entry points to areas of Mindanao affected by the earthquakes.
He said reports reaching his office said people are rushing relief vehicles.
Lorenzana assured that there are sufficient relief goods available and it’s just “a matter of properly distributing them.”
He said the checkpoints will ensure that only legitimate and authorized relief workers are granted access to evacuation centers and receive relief goods and supplies for distribution to evacuees.
Latest government data showed that 27,845 houses and 854 schools were destroyed by the earthquakes, which left at least 22 people dead and hundreds injured.
A 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit parts of Mindanao on Oct. 16 followed by a 6.6-magnitude one on Oct. 29, and a 6.5-magnitude temblor on Oct. 31.