Bangsamoro, the Philippines’ autonomous Muslim-majority region, is running low on food supplies and medical equipment amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the area’s top administrator said on Friday.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency over phone, Murad Ebrahim, chief minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said his government has spent over $39 million on its COVID-19 response until now.

“We are spending on medical, food, and other supplies, besides building quarantine facilities,” he said.

“But we are running short of food supplies as we have advised people to follow general quarantine rules. So, our focus at the moment is food production.”

He said extensive measures were taken early to prevent a full-scale outbreak in Bangsamoro.

“We enforced social distancing requirements, reduced working hours in offices, and barred gatherings, including religious ones,” Ebrahim said.

Educational institutions also remain closed, with online classes being held in areas with internet connectivity.

The steps have proven successful to an extent as the region of over five million people has 11 confirmed and 285 suspected coronavirus cases so far.

With only one hospital in the region equipped to treat COVID-19 cases, four of the 11 confirmed patients have died, while the remaining seven made successful recoveries.

Apart from just the solitary medical facility, lack of testing kits is another major problem for the region, according to Ebrahim.

“We are doing rapid testing as we do not have enough standard COVID-19 test kits. We have sent requests to the national government but are yet to receive any supplies,” he told Anadolu Agency.

He, however, acknowledged that the central government was facing a tough challenge in the capital Manila and northern parts of the Philippines.

They are the worst-hit areas of the archipelagic country, where the overall case count is over 12,000 with more than 800 deaths.

Ebrahim said the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) offered vital help to Bangsamoro by sending a mobile medical clinic to treat COVID-19 patients.

“We have asked for one more such clinic to bolster our capacity,” he said, adding that other Turkish aid organizations have also chipped in to help the region and its people.

“Other international groups and UN agencies are also supporting us in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.

Autonomous status

Located in the southern Philippines, the Bangsamoro autonomous region came into existence after a historic referendum in early 2019.

The vote marked the end of a decades-long struggle by Muslim armed groups, led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

On Feb. 26 last year, MILF chairman Ebrahim took over as regional premier, replacing the central government’s governor.

He was chosen by President Rodrigo Duterte to administer the Bangsamoro Transition Authority through to 2022.

With the comprehensive autonomy, the Muslim-majority region is free in its internal affairs, being able to establish and administer courts of Islamic law, and managing its surrounding waters jointly with the central government.

It is bound to the Philippines in foreign policy, though with some flexibility.

In addition, former fighters of MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) became eligible to join the country’s armed forces.

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