GOVERNMENT forces will now shift to clearing operation to ensure the safe return of the residents, who fled their homes, at the height of the firefight between the troops and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels in Zamboanga City.
Local Government Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II made the announcement on Saturday after National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that the standoff, which entered the 20th day Saturday, is over.
Roxas, Gazmin, and Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff General Emmanuel Bautista visited Saturday morning Martha Drive in the village of Sta. Catalina, one of the sites of fierce gun battle between the troops and MNLF rebels who infiltrated this city.
The standoff started last September 9 when hundreds of MNLF rebels infiltrated this city through the shores of Rio Hondo village and nearby villages.
Roxas said the clearing operations would last from 10 days to two weeks or more since it will be a room-to-room and a house-to-house search.
Roxas said it will really take time since the houses are closely built to each other and the clearing operation area ranges from 30 to 40 hectares.
“Ang iniiwasan natin dito ay yong mga booby traps, IED (improvised explosive device) and of course gusto rin natin makuha kung mayron pang natitirang bangkay, armas, munitions na naiwan dito,” Roxas said.
Gazmin said the soldiers will remain to assist the police force in undertaking the clearing operations in the “areas of concerns.”
The areas of concerns are the adjoining villages of Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara and Rio Hondo.
The clearing operation is the second phase of the government action since the first phase is military operation that was launched against the MNLF rebels.
Roxas said the third phase, which is the reconstruction, will immediately being once the clearing operation is over.
City Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, who chairs the Crisis Management Committee (CMC), said the imposition of curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. continues despite the end of the standoff.