City resumes work amid standoff; classes still suspended-A A +A
By Bong Garcia
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar announced that the operations of the City Government will resume although classes in all levels and schools will remain suspended and closed Wednesday.
Salazar also encouraged the heads of national agencies to evaluate the possibility of resumption of work, and the operation of banking institutions will depend upon the management’s discretion in coordination with Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
The imposition of curfew, however, resumed around 8 p.m. Tuesday until 5 a.m. of September 11 (Wednesday), said Salazar.
“We urge business establishments to be opened starting tomorrow (Wednesday) except those in affected areas which will be upon the discretion of the owners and operators,” she said.
“We likewise appeal to business establishments to ensure that prices of commodities remain stable. The buying public is also advised not to resort to panic buying but to purchase provisions enough for the day to prevent shortage of supplies,” the mayor added.
Salazar said the waterfront public market, which is located downtown, will remain closed but the Sta. Cruz Commercial Complex and the Bagsakan center will be opened starting Wednesday.
The mayor suspended the classes and works in both the public and private institutions since Monday when hundreds of rebels loyal to Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding-leader Nur Misuari stormed the city and held several residents “hostages,” said the military.
The MNLF denied, however, that they attacked the villages in this city, stressing they were harassed by government forces, prompting them to take a defensive move to protect themselves.
Six people were killed in the firefight that broke out Monday, while about 20 others were wounded. Thousands of residents from the villages of Rio Hondo, Sta. Barabara, Sta. Catalina, Kasanyangan, Talon-Talon and Tetuan also fled their homes. They are now staying in at least 15 evacuation centers temporarily set up by City Government.
On Tuesday morning, the MNLF released five people, including four children, said Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas in a press briefing.
The rebels, however, have remained holed up in the coastal village of Rio Hondo, said authorities.
The standoff started Monday after troops backed by tanks blocked the MNLF rebels -- armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers – from marching into the Zamboanga City Hall, where they plan to raise their flag to declare independence, said military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala.
The MNLF members have been calling for an independent Mindanao, which will cover the entire southern region, including Palawan and Sabah.
They also chided the National Government for coming up with the Framework Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), saying it has not even yet fully implemented the "Tripoli Agreement."
The MNLF rebels felt they have been left out in the government’s bid to seal a lasting peace in Mindanao, with MNLF founder Misuari saying earlier that they were not invited to the process.
With this, Julkipli Wadi, dean of the University of the Philippines Institute of Islamic Studies, said the incursion of MNLF troops in villages in Zamboanga City could have been the strategy of Misuari to call the attention of the government. [Read more about Wadi's statement.]
Misuari declared independence last month for Palawan, Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Sabah in Malaysia.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a friend of Misuari, also blamed the government peace panel on Monday for its failure to include the MNLF in the peace pact with the MILF.
“It should be done simultaneously,” Duterte said, adding it would be best for the government and the MNLF to go back to the drawing table.
“It’s better to talk for a thousand years than fight a day’s war and lose lives unnecessarily,” he said.
But in a joint statement Tuesday, the government and the MILF peace panels condemned “in the strongest terms” the violence concurrently being inflicted in Zamboanga City by the MNLF rebels.
The joint statement was issued as both panels resume their formal talks in Malaysia to continue discussions on the two remaining annexes – power sharing and normalization - of the framework agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).
"The perpetrators must be stopped and held accountable for their acts. Those behind the continued acts of violence in Mindanao do not want the current peace process between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to succeed. Their actions intend to derail the process using violence and disinformation to spread fear and chaos in Mindanao," it said.
The panels also expressed their heartfelt sympathy to and solidarity with the people of Zamboanga City and other areas affected by such violence.
Trapped in the standoff are about a hundred people, said military reports. Among the “hostages” is a local health official, said Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Tuesday. [Read the related story.]
Two priests have also been trapped inside the cordoned areas occupied by the MNLF, said Archdiocese of Zamboanga Administrator Msgr. Crisologo Manongas on Tuesday.
"There are two priests there who were trapped. Kasama nila ang mga evacuees. Hindi sila makalabas ng simbahan," said Manongas over Church run Radio Veritas.
He added that they have repeatedly tried but failed to rescue the priests along with some other evacuees.
"I am having a difficulty on how to penetrate the place because it's cordoned. We are not allowed to come inside and it is also very dangerous because the fighting is beside the church," said Manongas.
State of emergency
Despite the tensions in this city, President Benigno Aquino III ruled out Tuesday the declaration of a state of emergency in Zamboanga.
In an interview following his attendance to the 7th Asean Navy Chiefs Meeting in Makati City, Aquino said that if there were "adequate" forces there when the siege started on Monday, now there were already "overwhelming" troops deployed in Zamboanga City.
"We have airlifted lots of troops, including the most elite forces, in Zamboanga City. My understanding is that the situation there was a bit calm," he said, stressing that the government's priority was to ensure that the civilian population would not be affected.
He said the crisis management council has been activated and Zamboanga City Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar has been hands-on.
He also said that Secretary Roxas, who flew on Monday to Zamboanga City, has been giving him updates of the situation there.
With the ongoing standoff, the governments of the United States, United Kingdom and Australia advised their citizens against traveling to the Zamboanga region and nearby provinces.
The British government told their citizens that the airport in Zamboanga remained close for a still undetermined amount of time, and a curfew is in place from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.
"The FCO advised against all travel to this region. Any British nationals in Zamboanga city should remain indoors and follow the instructions of local authorities," it added.
In an emergency message to its citizens, Washington urged American nationals in the country "to exercise caution and remain vigilant regarding their personal security situation," especially in traveling to neighboring Basilan province. This came despite the fact, that "the embassy has heard no reports of violence" in the said province.
"US citizens in the Zamboanga City area should shelter in place to avoid becoming involved in the fighting or should follow any instructions from local authorities regarding evacuation," the embassy said. [Read more.]
Local authorities in this city are hoping that the tension will ease out soon. The MNLF on Monday, though, called for a third party to handle the negotiation. (Bong Garcia/ANC of Sun.Star Davao/SDR/Virgil Lopez/HDT/CVB/Sunnex)