Church split over army posts in Mindanao disaster zones

Philippine military sets up checkpoints to control entry, exit of people in evacuation areas following quakes
Church split over army posts in Mindanao disaster zones

Soldiers help airlift villagers from remote communities of Cotabato province in the southern Philippines following a strong earthquake that struck the area on Oct. 29. (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Information Agency Region 12)

Church leaders in the southern Philippines are divided over a government order to set up military checkpoints in areas affected by a series of recent earthquakes.

Catholic Archbishop Martin Jumoad of Ozamiz said that although the move might delay the delivery of relief goods, the checkpoints are needed because Mindanao is a "risky place."

He backed the order from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for the armed forces to set up checkpoints to control entry to quake-hit areas in Mindanao.

"We have to understand what the military is doing," he said. "Damned if you do and damned if you don’t," said the prelate, adding that "there are measures to ensure orderliness and peace."

Episcopal Bishop Rex Reyes, however, said the checkpoints were "unfortunate," saying a humanitarian situation exists and that "humanitarian service goes beyond religion, political beliefs and race."

"The sole motivation to respond is compassion and mercy," he said in a statement. "Setting categories of what is 'legitimate and authorized' for the giver or receiver neither empowers local government officials nor gives the [social welfare office] space to perform its mandate."

Lorenzana said his order for the checkpoints was justified. "Reports reaching me say people are rushing relief vehicles and getting anything they can," he said, adding that the setting up of checkpoints was aimed at monitoring all relief goods and relief workers going in.

He said the checkpoints "shall control and screen the ingress and egress of people in evacuation centers to ensure that only legitimate and authorized relief workers are granted access to evacuation centers, and receive relief goods and supplies for distribution to the evacuees."

The whole Mindanao region has been under martial law since May 2017 following an attack by Islamic State-inspired fighters on the city of Marawi that resulted in a five-month siege.

Bishop Reyes, however, said that "martial law or not, humanitarian aid to all those in need is a true mark of a magnanimous and upright government."

Aid agencies estimated that at least 180,000 people were affected by the powerful temblors that destroyed 27,845 homes and 854 schools in the provinces of Davao Del Sur and North Cotabato.

Authorities said at least 21 people were killed, 400 injured and an estimated 35,000 others left homeless.

A 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit the region on Oct. 16, followed by a 6.6-magnitude one on Oct. 29 and a 6.5-magnitude quake on Oct. 31.

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