Zamboanga City Crisis Essays

30 September

The vibrant city of Zamboanga has been devastated by the siege. ME Munoz under a Creative Commons Licence

The statistics are stark and telling.

Close to people died and more than were wounded, according to estimates by the authorities. The UN reported that over , people were displaced in Zamboanga, with another 19, homeless in nearby Basilan province, both in the southern Philippines. Over 10, homes were destroyed.

Homes were destroyed by fire. Schools, airports and businesses were all shut down.

Welcome to Zamboanga, a province in the southern Philippines where a war between military troops and rebel fighters went on for 20 days before the government said on Saturday that the siege was over.

As I write this, at least 30 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels have surrendered after a two-week siege of this city. The rebels attacked the city to raise awareness of the government’s move of entering into a peace deal with another rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), fearing that the agreement they signed in would be side-lined.

The UN has declared the Zamboanga situation as a humanitarian crisis.

‘We are increasingly alarmed by the situation and the growing needs of people caught up with violence,’ UN Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator in the Philippines, Luiza Carvalho, said in a statement. ‘We are particularly concerned for the most vulnerable, especially the well-being of women and children.’

According to the UN, people are struggling to survive, with around 70, staying in the main sports complex in Zamboanga City, in desperately overcrowded conditions and insufficient sanitation facilities.

It warned that given the situation, there is a real risk of a disease outbreak. Food, drinking water, health services, cooking utensils, tents and other necessities are urgently required, with Carvalho emphasizing the need for aid to be delivered as soon as possible to the displaced.

 ‘We are particularly concerned that aid is delivered in an impartial manner, with the needs of the most vulnerable met and those outside the evacuation centres not forgotten,’ she said.

Human Rights Watch said it was important for children affected by the war, either as combatants or as hostages, to undergo psychological treatment.

‘Over the past week, we have documented the rebels’ use of children as hostages and human shields, some of whom have been killed and wounded during military operations. Meanwhile, Zamboanga’s evacuation centres, including a sports stadium, overflow with thousands of children who are homeless and unable to go to school,’ said Human Rights Watch Philippine researcher Carlos Conde.

‘Long after the guns go silent and the soldiers go home, the children of Zamboanga will wrestle with the traumas of these days of violence,’ he continued.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that many civilians were caught in the crossfire:

‘Government forces should not be making blanket assumptions about whether individuals are rebels based on whether they have proper documents or not. Officials can check those leaving the conflict zone, but they need to ensure that civilians have safe passage and are not put at unnecessary risk.’

Zamboanga is a beautiful place. I walked its streets, many moons ago. I crossed its bustling seaport under a scorching sun, slept in its hotels, enjoyed its seafood treasures and visited its markets. I have heard the laughter of its children and met many of its people.

Although the government has said that the siege is over, scattered fighting is still on-going, according to reports. I am hoping that peace returns to the island, a place Zamboanganos – men, women and children – call home. 

From the Daily Zamboanga Times (Sep 29): Armed conflict maybe over, but not the crisis

The armed conflict maybe be over, but a larger crisis looms in the horizon as the government faces a gargantuan task of rehabilitating more than , displaced people and rebuilding their homes in six villages.


Experts say that it will take two or three years for government agencies to put things in order in Zamboanga City. This means rebuilding homes in Sta. Barbara, Lustre, Sta. Catalina, Rio Hondo, Mariki and Talon-Talon or relocating those who have lost their homes and are not keen on returning to the devastated areas. But before the actual rehabilitation works, so many other tasks are to be carried out like profiling, double checking and the bureaucratic paper works that will ensue along the way.


In addition, several schools, the Enriquez Sports Complex and the R.T. Lim Boulevard badly need general clean up when the evacuees will eventually be relocated to other sites. In this case, classes in the said schools are expected to be normalized only after several weeks and consequently the students are already deprived of a big part of the learning process


Along side is the problem of the business sector wherein stores and other establishments do not expect the same number of clients and customers to come to them in the next few months as they were coming before September 9, the start of the bloody siege.


The Department of Trade and Industry had earlier said that the local business sector had already suffered more than P million in unconsummated sales in the second week of the standoff.


Zamboangueños, still tense from the day siege, have to cope with reported terror threats or retaliation plots coming from the MNLF Misuari faction and its sympathizers.


This developed as sporadic fighting took place yesterday in Sta. Catalina, Rio Hondo and Sumatra, Talon-Talon where troops are hunting down for MNLF leader Habier Malik and his few remaining followers.


The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said the Philippine National Police troops on the ground have tightened blocking positions at the MNLF&#;s expected &#;exit and withdrawal points.&#;


It said the fighting had affected 23, families or , people from 14 villages in Zamboanga City and one village in Zamboanga Sibugay.


Of these, 18, families or , people are staying in 35 evacuation centers.


Troops on Friday rescued the last six hostages held by the rebels after nearly three weeks of fighting.


At least 24 bodies were recovered in the combat zone in Sta Catalina Thursday where soldiers were still conducting mopping operations.


Police were checking if Malik is one of them, after text messages circulate about a supposed last stand by Malik on Friday. Government troops were finally able to enter the remaining houses in Sta Catalina.


Early Thursday, 45 MNLF fighters were turned over to the police. The previous day, another batch of 38 fighters was captured. The recent arrests of big batches of MNLF fighters indicated government&#;s confusion over the number of fighters still holed up in the battle zone. As of Thursday, military numbers show a total of MNLF members  captured, surrendered, and were killed &#; for a total of MNLF fighters. The police numbers are different: captured, 24 surrendered, and killed &#; for a total of The military says the urban setting is making operations more complex than it appears.


About people, including rebels, have been killed in the three-week armed conflict.


Fifteen MNLF fighters  were killed in Thursday night clash, an army spokesman said.

&#;We have secured the last six hostages,&#; the spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala, told a new conference in Zamboanga.


&#;We were told these were the last group of people held by the rebels. We now have accounted for hostages.&#;


About of the gunmen had surrendered or been captured, Zagala said.


There was sporadic gunfire on Friday and two powerful explosions were heard in areas where U.S.-trained commandos were doing house-to-house searches, Zagala said.

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