2020 calamities magnify NCMF ingenuities amid fund limit

By Ali G. Macabalang

Photo shows Muslim vendors stranded somewhere in Luzon awaiting government relief assistance. An NCMF team distributed packs of relief goods on the day the photo was taken. (Photo supplied)


Like other government agencies, the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) has exemplified utmost innovative measures to help address the adversities of natural calamities ranging from volcano eruption and earthquakes to the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the country in 2020.

“To say that 2020 was a year of difficulties is a massive understatement,” NCMF spokesman Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos said in their year-end report, hinting at how their agency workforces exerted a higher degree of ingenuities stimulated by limited budget supports.

Established in 2010 under R.A. 9997 in replacement of the Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA), the NCMF is mandated to serve the country’s minority Muslim citizens particularly in promoting their culture and institutions, conduct of hajj (Islamic pilgrimage), Qur’an reading competitions, and implementation of necessary measures in Shari’ah project and madrasa (Arabic/Islamic) education, among others.

Volcano eruption, sporadic earthquakes and a series of typhoons compounded by the advent of COVID-19 pandemic entailed government agencies like the NCMF to divert regular thrusts to relief and rehabilitation efforts

“Social media posts highlighting numerous events since January 2020 flooded our newsfeeds. What started off as a singular movement to address the calamity in the vicinity of the Taal Volcano (grew to) numerous calls for assistance in earthquake-hit and fire-ravaged Muslim Filipino communities in Mindanao and parts of Luzon,” Datu Ramos said.

The pandemic that swiftly spread across the globe and redounded to lockdowns in March lockdowns in the country had magnified the influx of desperate messages for rescues, delivery of relief goods, and assistance to bury the dead Muslims who were “in danger of being cremated,” he recalled.

The surge of returning OFWs and Islamic scholars from abroad in fashion aggravating concerns on Muslim Filipino LSIs (Locally Stranded Individuals) who had no means of returning to Mindanao, jobless and unable to provide for their hungry families had exacted another major attention the NCMF’s pools of workers across the country, he said.

Datu Ramos added: “Things became worse… when succeeding typhoons caused severe flooding nationwide, with multiple Muslim families and other residents forced to seek (refuge in) higher ground as they watched their properties submerged in muddy water.”

He viewed the “cancellation of the Hajj 2020” as a result of the pandemic as a “most painful” part of NCMF’s fate, saying their Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment had to conduct a mass refund for all the paid pilgrims nationwide.

But despite all such emergencies, he said, the “NCMF remained vigilant and active in responding to many calls for help that we could (provide within the bounds of) financial constraints and limited manpower of the NCMF.”

The NCMF was appropriated in 2020 with a total budget of P715.2 million broken at P 566.7M for personnel salaries, P154.2-M for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and P16.4M as capital outlay, he said in another message to the Philippine Muslim Today.

In the year-end report, Datu Ramos averred: “We somehow made it work through the one thing that the Commission (NCMF) is mandated to do – unification of the Muslim Filipino communities.”

“We saw private individuals and organizations, with government officials and agencies, donating through the Bureau of Muslim Settlements, Bureau of Peace and Conflict Resolution, the Bureau of External Relations, and the 11 NCMF regional offices and 10 field offices across the country.

Datu Ramos attributed the major credit to NCMF Secretary Saidamen Balt Pangarungan, who he said exerted much coordinative efforts with public and private sectors for complementation in serving Muslim Filipinos.

“Magaling sa convergence at coordination si secretary. Hingi ng hingi sa ibang departments to meet the demands of emergency times,” he said, referring to Pangarungan’s leadership ingenuity.

He also extolled Pangarungan’s utmost concern for the welfare of the NCMF workers, hinting that past leaderships had neglected the subordinates.  

The yearend also conveyed words of gratitude to DILG Secretary Eduardo Año alongside Undersecretaries Marjorie Jalojos and Jonathan Malaya for their prompt interventions in “securing safe passages for the tablighs (preachers), stranded Islamic scholars (morits), and the burial of COVID and non-COVID-related deaths amid travel bans.”

The NCMF also acknowledged assistance of the DSWD under Secretary Rolando Bautista for providing thousands of Family Relief Packs distributed through the NCMF.

It also thanked Agriculture Secretary William Dar for contributing through Usec. Zamsamin Ampatuan to the NCMF’s conducts of related trainings for affected Muslim farmers in the country.

Datu Ramos said the emergencies in 2020 had toughened the close bonding of NCMF workers in delivering services, and bolstered their ingenuities in addressing urgent situations.

He expressed hope that in 2021, the NMCF and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) officialdoms will have stronger coordinated efforts for the welfare of close to 12 Muslim Filipinos scattered across the country.

He said things “it will be best” if the BARMM government can chip-in some funds for the NCMF operations, noting in jest that P500-million could just be a “chicken feed” from the autonomous governance to yield through the commission. AGM

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