A week after fleeing their communities for fear of military operations more than 1,000 displaced tribal people taking shelter in a gymnasium in the southern Philippines are reportedly suffering from chicken pox
, fever, and diarrhea. A village health worker told ucanews.com that the evacuees in Surigao del Sur province are being treated "but our capabilities and resources are limited" because of lack of medicine and health facilities. Leonarda Prado, a health worker in the village Diatagon, said there are also no available health workers to address the problems. Another health worker, Lilibeth Prado, said authorities told her not to paint a bleak picture of conditions inside the gymnasium. "They wanted me to tell lies, that everything is OK, when it is not?" she told ucanews.com. She said the only toilet in the building is already clogged and could not be used so people have to dig holes outside or use toilets at nearby houses. "We are doing our best, but we are appealing to the [Health Department] to help us or diseases will spread," said Prado. Government disaster officials, meanwhile, said they do not know if the tribal people's situation can qualify as a calamity or not. "We are in quandary because authorities told us there were no skirmishes in the communities where these evacuees fled from," social welfare officer May Salinas said. She said the social welfare office cannot justify the release of relief goods, medicines, and aid without a disaster being declared. The evacuees said they left their homes for fear of being caught in crossfire after soldiers started setting up camps in their communities. The military has confirmed that soldiers have been deployed in Diatagon where the displaced tribal people fled to on July 16. Human rights group Karapatan reported that soldiers have entered the evacuation center to distribute food despite complaints from the evacuees. Military checkpoints have also been set up on roads going to the village, preventing food and other relief aid
from entering the gymnasium. Bishop Raul Dael of Tandag
said he has been trying to "to listen to and dialogue" with the soldiers and the tribal people.
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"Whatever propaganda is spread, the situation shows that the [tribal people] are simply the victims here," said the prelate. "As a church we are still compelled to help them. We feed the hungry and help the needy without conditions," he added. The bishop urged Catholics in his diocese to be "instruments for reconciliation and lasting peace" as he called for rebels and the military to "go back to the negotiating table and enter into dialogue." A group of legislators in the Lower House of Congress has called for a congressional inquiry into the situation in Diatagon. Youth Party Representative Sarah Elago said soldiers had reportedly threatened tribes, forcing them off of their land in the Andap Valley where Diatagon is situated. The area is known to have one of the country's biggest coal reserves which President Rodrigo Duterte early this year said he wanted investors to develop. "Violations of the rights of indigenous peoples amid counter-insurgency and other military operations and big business interests have been well-documented," said Elago.