AFTER three weeks of fighting between government troops and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels, Mayor Beng Climaco officially declared yesterday the Zamboanga City siege as over.
That means the city government is now shifting its focus to the equally difficult task of recovering from the damage wrought by the outbreak of violence.
While the Zamboanga City Hall is back in operation, Climaco has ordered the flag flown at half mast as a reminder of those who died in the fighting. Businesses reopened, but security remained tight.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) set a timetable of two weeks of clearing operations in the affected barangays before the displaced residents could be allowed to return to their homes.
Now to the figures provided by the Zamboanga City police: 18 soldiers killed, 167 wounded; five policemen killed and 14 wounded; and 12 civilians killed and 72 wounded.
The bigger problem was the displacement of around 100,000 residents in the barangays attacked by MNLF forces. That is about one-tenth of the city’s population. Some 10,000 houses were razed to the ground.
Photos and video footages taken from the war zones speak volumes of the devastation wrought by the siege. Estimates pegged the affected areas at 30-40 hectares of densely packed communities, mangrove swamps and ponds. These are the areas the AFP said would take two weeks to clear.
The Zamboanga City government has not been left alone in its effort to recover.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda outlined yesterday the various kinds of assistance provided by national government agencies. Donations from other sources have started to pour, although more aid in terms of relief goods and construction materials are needed.
With all these efforts and the determination shown by its officials, Zamboanga City will no doubt recover swiftly from the devastation and, to quote Lacierda, “like the phoenix it will rise from the ashes.”
What will take time to heal, however, are the psychological wounds especially those inflicted on residents in the conflict areas. Fear will continue to hound the displaced residents even long after they will have returned to their barangays and rebuilt their burnt homes.
Government needs to find ways to heal those wounds and assuage the fears. It needs to convince the people, through concrete acts, that they will no longer be victimized by wayward armed elements again.