Caritas Philippines asks for help for the victims of earthquakes in North Cotabato

The death toll from the recent earthquake swarm in the southern Philippines stands at 22, plus hundreds of injured and over 24,000 displaced. More than 188,000 people have been affected by the emergency. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) recently issued an appeal for aid. Bishop Valles visited survivors.

Cotabato (AsiaNews) – The National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA)/Caritas Philippines is urging all of the country’s dioceses to assist the communities affected by recent earthquakes in North Cotabato, on the southern island of Mindanao.

“The country is following the situation with apprehension, but we need donations and concrete expressions of support,” said Fr Edwin A. Gariguez, executive secretary of the main charity of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Philippines (CBCP).

The seismic swarm that sowed terror in the southern Philippines last month left 22 dead, plus hundreds of injured and more than 24,000 displaced.

On 31 October 2019, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake hit central and eastern Mindanao with its epicentre in Tulunan (North Cotabato). Two days earlier, the same area was hit by a magnitude 6.6 quake. On 16 October, a magnitude 6.3 had already struck.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reports that over 188,000 people have been affected by the emergency.

Almost 21,000 homes were destroyed and another 7,200 were damaged. The tremors also smashed two schools and damaged another 870, hampering the education of over 3.4 million students.

Since the start of the crisis, volunteers with NASSA/Caritas Philippines have been helping local residents. In the diocese of Kidapawan, the Catholic charity has allocated a million pesos (US,000) for relief operations. Meanwhile, Caritas Manila continues to provide additional food aid to affected communities.

“Thousands of people in the neighbouring diocese of Digos are also in desperate need of assistance,” said Fr Garigue. “Apart from the city of Cotabato, agriculture is the area’s main activity. Almost everyone farms. People are very poor, and now have nothing left.”

The CBCP recently launched a nation-wide appeal to help displaced families. Local Caritas organisations have set up centres in the city of Kidapawan and Magsaysay to receive, package and distribute relief goods.

"Many people prefer to camp outside their homes and refuse to go to temporary shelters set up for displaced people,” Fr Garigue explained. However, “Most homes are now unusable, and seismic swarms do not seem to be stopping, and this is fuelling fear.”

"Government authorities are responding to the needs of the population with respect to water and food. But giving earthquake victims a roof is the most urgent thing, especially when night falls. Our volunteers are doing something about it, providing some comfort.”

Fr Gariguez explains that “Communities hit by the earthquakes are in a state of shock. However, since NASSA/Caritas Philippines does not have the skills to provide psychological assistance, we are turning to professionals from organisations we work with. There is so much demand for this type of help among the displaced people. Many suffer from post-traumatic disorders. We are looking at ways to deal with the problem.”

Archbishop of Davao and CBCP president Romulo Geolina visited North Cotabato two days ago to meet survivors. The prelate offered words of consolation to the displaced people of Makilala, which, together with Tulunan, is the city most affected by quakes.

Accompanied by Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan, the archbishop met with families still living in temporary shelters and with volunteers involved in relief activities.

Speaking on Radio Veritas, the archbishop appealed “again for more help to ease the sufferings and pains of our brothers and sisters.”

(Photo credit: Caritas Philippines).