MANILA, Philippines: At least six people have been reported killed while more than 200 others were being held hostage as members of the Moro National Liberation Front attacked several coastal villages in Zamboanga City on Monday.
“Since the start of the crisis at around 4:30 a.m. today (Monday), the Zamboanga City Police Office reported that six people had been killed —one policemen, one navy man and four civilians–while 24 others had been wounded in the course of the encounter between government troops and the rebels. More casualties were reported on the enemy side,” Zamboanga City Mayor Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said in a statement.
Salazar said 20 of the hostages are in Barangay (village) Sta. Catalina, while over 200 were being held captive in Barangay Kasanyangan.
“We are in close coordination with our police and military authorities and everything is being done to solve the crisis the soonest possible time with minimal damage to lives and properties,” she said.
Aside from Sta. Catalina and Kasanyangan, the other villages affected by the MNLF attack were Sta. Barbara, Talon-Talon, and Mampang.
Airports and seaports in Zamboanga City were closed for precautionary measures. Work and classes in all levels were also cancelled.
There were also about 1,500 persons sheltered in different evacuation centers as of noon Monday, the reports said.
“The City Health Office in cooperation with private hospitals are setting up an emergency hospital at the grandstand where all victims will be directed. Ambulances from public and private hospitals will be stationed in the area,” Salazar said.
Salazar also appealed to the media not to sensationalize or leak sensitive information as to not jeopardize the operations of authorities.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin have been directed by President Aquino to fly to Zamboanga to help address the situation.
“I am in touch with President Aquino and the Executive Department and they are monitoring and helping us resolve this concern,” Salazar also said.
Zamboanga city Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said the military and police have been ordered to secure all hospitals, media offices, water utilities and commercial establishments.
The military’s Western Mindanao Command also called on all residents to “stay calm, vigilant and ready” against possible entry of MNLF members including in other parts of the Western Mindanao region.
Gen. Rey Ardo, the Wesmincom chief, said he has dispatched additional troops to Zamboanga City from Zamboanga Peninsula and Basilan — the 44th Infantry Battalion in Zamboanga Sibugay and two companies from Basilan.
“We have enough troops– the 32nd IB, Task Force Zamboanga, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Police — securing the entire city. Reinforcements (are intended) to secure to outskirts and main highway leaving and getting inside the city,” said Ardo.
Ardo said for more than three days, “we’ve been monitoring their movements and apprehended some of them last night but some managed to board commercial vessels and they were able to secure firearms from their local allies and relatives in Zamboanga City.”
Ardo said he could not give an actual number of MNLF forces who attacked Zamboanga City, but “we know it’s Habier Malik is leading the group while Nur Misuari is in Talipao (Sulu).”
Malik is a Sulu-based MNLF commander.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the navy men clashed with about 100 MNLF rebels, who were on board a large motorboat and eight smaller vessels off Rio Hondo, a crowded Muslim community in the port city of Zamboanga.
The pre-dawn clash later spilled into Rio Hondo as people slept, prompting scores of residents to flee, Zagala said. Reinforcement troops and police have been deployed to help secure Rio Hondo, which is located near the downtown area of Zamboanga, a bustling trading hub in the south.
In Cotabato City, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has called on the MNLF “to take the path of peace” following Monday morning’s attack.
The MILF, a breakaway group of the MNLF, is talking peace with the government.
Jaafar also reminded armed and unarmed MILF members in Zamboanga City and the island provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to stay neutral.
“If there is any MILF involvement, our role is to secure innocent civilians that may be caught in the crossfire. As much as possible no aggression or violent participation from our end,” said Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs.
Recently, MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari publicly declared his plan to pursue the establishment of an independent Bangsamoro state at a time when the MILF was in the verge of finalizing with the Aquino government an enhanced ARMM autonomy which could become the new political entity for Muslims in Mindanao.
Chief Superintendent Noel Delos Reyes, ARMM police director, said the public declaration of Misuari to secede from the republic prompted him to look into a possible sedition case against the aging MNLF leader, but had fizzled out with the absence of violence or armed uprising.
With this development, Delos Reyes said the Western Mindanao police force should now look into this problem, explaining that Zamboanga City is not even part of ARMM.
In Manila, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV blamed the conflict in Zamboanga City on the lack of inclusive consultations for the Mindanao peace process.
“With the recent MNLF raid in Zamboanga City, the bombings in Central Mindanao, and the Sabah skirmishes earlier this year, it is now apparent that the consultations for the peace talks have not been inclusive after all,” Trillanes said in a text message to media.
MNLF spokesperson Atty. Emmanuel Fontanilla said disagreement with the Manila government has forced them to return to their “former aspiration” of independence.
He said several provisions of their 1996 peace agreement have yet to be implemented by the government. – ANN/ Philippine Inquirer