"And when all we rely on has turned upside down, we need information more than ever. It's as crucial as food, water, shelter, and medicine." - Infoa said, “Communication is Aid.”
AS EARLY as 2011, international non-government organizations like Infoasaid, have valued communications as a very important factor in relaying information to address the needs of people affected in calamities, whether natural or man-made, and link them to other organizations that can expedite the needed assistance.
This is again also true in the aftermath of the Marawi siege. Places and timelines, key actors may change in conflict and disaster situations, but it is a universal law that at the end of the day, there will be people who have lost their homes, and that means there is a need for rebuilding and rehabilitating the people and the places affected.
As early as July, two months since the conflict started or three months before Marawi was declared free from terrorist forces, different government agencies from the national capital and nearby regions, made an ocular visit in Marawi City which began conducting a series of meetings consisting information about the conflict situation, and planning for potential actions to be taken once the conflict is over.
The snippets of information were given by National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Region 10 director, Engr. Teodoro Buenavista, Jr., who was kind enough to accommodate queries of the inter-government agency activities. Now that Marawi City is in the phase of recovery, NTC has doubled its efforts in giving out free communication services to the affected residents.
NTC Region 10 has initially installed free “text and call” booths in evacuation centers in Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City, after an order from the national office in Manila, the said project will be expanded to more evacuation centers until residents can safely return to their houses in Marawi City.
Buenavista shared that in the phase one of the project, there are already six booths, and now there are five more in the phase two. The booths will not only expand within Northern Mindanao area but also in nearby towns of Marawi City, such as in Saguiaran in Lanao del Sur. The free texts and calls will not only have national coverage but also it can connect worldwide, and the agency is mulling on installing free wifi services in order to connect to the Internet.
“Naa amo gi arrange free wifi sa nine barangays sa Marawi na cleared na sa AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) for resettlement,” Buenavista shared.
(We already arranged for a free Wi-Fi within the nine barangays in Marawi that was cleared safe by the AFP).
“Ato gi tap ang (we have tapped) male and female Meranaws as volunteers to have a good link with IDPs (indisplaced persons),” he added. This NTC project was partnered by the Department of Information Communications Technology, Globe Telecomms, Smart Telecomms, ug Amateur and Civic Radio Clubs of Northern Mindanao.
In conflict situations, although painful it can be, it can sometimes breed ingenuity in innovations. However what the inter-agency and inter-organizational project has made was an act based on what can be done immediately to provide a service for the people who are currently living in makeshift houses or tents.
We should see this as an opportunity to reflect and be critical, not only the socio-political aspects in rebuilding Marawi City, but also in the fields of communication being synthesized in science and technology, while at the same time being sensitive in the cultural, traditional, and spiritual aspects of its people living there.
Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on November 15, 2017.