Zambo strife fails to stop pilgrims-A A +A
Saturday, September 14, 2013
AT LEAST 200 Hajj pilgrims from Mindanao were flown by the Air Force to Cebu on Friday afternoon after they got stranded in Zamboanga City.
“Despite what’s happening in Zamboanga, they are willing to go because this is a religious duty that must be done by every Muslim who can afford to do it,” said Malo Manonggiring, regional director of the National Commission of Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) in the Visayas.
About 300 other pilgrims from Tawi-Tawi also arrived in Cebu through commercial flights Friday morning as part of the country’s 8,000-strong delegation to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, he said.
Their trip was at risk of getting delayed by hostilities that broke out last Monday in Zamboanga City between government forces and a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Government immediately closed the Zamboanga International Airport to commercial air traffic.
The C-130 Hercules cargo planes of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) arrived at the Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base in Lapu-Lapu City at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The pilgrims were expected to board available flights to Manila to try to meet their international flight schedules.
“Through government officials, we are extending a helping hand by airlifting our stranded Muslim brothers and sisters,” said Lieutenant Colonel Marciano Jesus Guevara of PAF’s 2nd Air Division.
Hamsira Harad, a 43-year-old teacher from Isabela, Basilan, told Sun.Star Cebu she was grateful to the government, especially the PAF, for facilitating their travel.
“Maganda yung treatment nila sa amin. Wala talagang problema (They treated us well. We had no problems),” she said in an interview.
Harad said they chartered a boat from Basilan to Zamboanga City at 10 a.m. Friday after waiting for a clearance from the Coast Guard.
As they were traveling by bus toward the airport, Harad said she noticed Zamboanga City was normal, as opposed to what they saw and heard on the news.
“Hindi naman masyadong magulo kasi may mga tao na naglalakad sa kalsada pero nakikita namin yung maraming usok (It wasn’t chaotic and we saw people walking on the streets, but we also saw a lot of smoke),” she said.
When they arrived at the airport, Harad said it took some time for them to board the plane as their bags were checked several times.
“We understand it because it’s only for our safety,” she said.
Harad, together with her husband Aldam, will make the pilgrimage for the first time.
They work for the Department of Education in Basilan.
For 64-year-old Ani Juini, it will be her second Hajj. She is being joined by a daughter.
Juini of Basilan said they had booked a flight on a commercial airline but the hostilities forced a change of plans.
The pilgrims will stay in Mecca for a month. They expected to shell out at least $1,500 for their international fare, aside from their daily expenses.
Through its Facebook page, Cebu Pacific said it is coordinating with the government to accommodate passengers affected by the Zamboanga airport closure.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines has extended the suspension of Zamboanga airport operations from September 13 to 16. This has affected flights to and from Manila, Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de Oro.
Meanwhile, Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas Director Danilo Constantino said they will pull out the 130 policemen from Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB)-Central Visayas if the clashes in Zamboanga City continue to escalate.
He said the troops may be replaced by another team who will handle checkpoint operations and patrol strategic areas in the southern port city.
For his part, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama wants two alleged members of the MNLF who are detained in the Cebu City Jail to be transferred.
The mayor said the city’s jail might “not be very much” equipped to keep them.
He was told that the detention of the two in the Cebu City jail was on orders of the Supreme Court.
But the mayor retorted that the local government unit should have a say on the matter, considering that the jail is located in the city.
Rama then said he will ask the City’s Police Coordinating and Advisory Council (PCAC) headed by Eugene Elizalde to brief him about the matter, adding that he was not informed of the presence of the two MNLF members in the city jail.
In an interview over GMA 7, Jail Warden Superintendent Johnson Calub said they cannot easily transfer the inmates because there is a court decision to detain them in the city jail.
He assured that the two have nothing to do with what’s happening in Zamboanga City. They had been initially jailed in Jolo, but the court transferred them, citing security reasons. (DSM/PDF/Sun.Star Cebu)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 14, 2013.