Fighting displaces families in southern Philippines

Updated September 10, 2013

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — CFCA project teams were able to reach evacuation sites to bring food to sponsored friends and their families displaced after rebel forces clashed with government troops in coastal communities of the southern Philippines.

CFCA sponsored friends and their families were among about 1,500 people evacuated from their homes.

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Three communities served by CFCA — Santa Catalina, Mampang and Talon-Talon — were affected when fighting broke out early Monday.

“We are trying to figure out the situation of families since they were spread out, but for the three communities we have 200-plus sponsored children and aging,” Rhodora Partosa, CFCA-Zamboanga coordinator, said in an email.

“All of them were affected since these barangays (communities) are almost captured by the armed groups.”

A fourth community served by CFCA, Tugbungan, was also being held by rebel groups, said Mariecar Castillo, a CFCA subproject coordinator in the area. The community is home to 55 sponsored children, youth and elderly people.

Evacuees were being housed in schools, churches and city facilities in Zamboanga, Partosa said. Some, including CFCA staff members, were staying with relatives from other communities.

Shelters were reportedly running low on food and water, and CFCA teams were blocked from reaching some sites because of the fighting.

News organizations reported rebels were holding more than 200 people hostage.

"We are not sure at this time if there are CFCA sponsored persons among the hostages," Partosa said. "We hope and pray none are affected."

News reports said that at least six people, including four civilians, were killed and dozens injured in the fighting.

There have been no reports of deaths or injuries among CFCA sponsored friends and their families.

Schools and businesses in Zamboanga and surrounding areas were closed Monday and Tuesday, all flights to and from the city were canceled and a curfew was in place, Partosa said.

According to news reports, fighting broke out after government troops blocked armed groups believed to be from the Moro National Liberation Front from marching into the city.

The MNLF for decades has been fighting the Philippine government for more autonomy for Muslims and others in the southern region of Mindanao.

CFCA serves more than 45,000 children and elderly throughout the Philippines, with nearly 3,800 sponsored in the south through the Zamboanga project.

Zamboanga was the setting for CFCA's documentary film, "Rise and Dream," which tells the story of 13 teenagers in the CFCA program who persevered despite poverty and living in a conflict zone.

Paul Pearce, CFCA director of global strategy and the film’s executive producer, said the CFCA staff will continue to monitor the situation of sponsored friends and their families and provide updates as information becomes available.

"The entire city and situation needs our prayers at this point," Pearce said.

(CFCA communications liaison in the Philippines, Tristan John Cabrera, contributed information for this report.)

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