ZAMBOANGA City, Sept. 10, 2013—Today is the second day of ‘stand-off’ between the government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) intruders in Zamboanga City. It is a stand-off because there seems to be no resolution to the armed confrontation occurring in six to seven coastal areas of the city. Though it seems to be a small portion of city, which is composed of 98 barangays, the armed conflicts are very close to the government center (the Zamboanga City Hall) and the central business district (the pueblo, as we call it locally), only around 1.5 to 2 kilometers away.
Because of this proximity to the seat of the local government and the city’s central business center, the city has been locked down – meaning the whole pueblo, the commercial center, is closed – all the department stores, commercial centers, banks, hotels, schools & universities, and other big establishments are closed.
There are two major conflict areas in the city: (a) the barangays of Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina, Mariki and Rio Hondo, which are populated majority by Muslims and located along the coastlines; and (2) the barangays of Mampang and Talon-Talon, which is located five to seven kilometers away east of the city.
I am residing in Barangay Guiwan, about 2 to 2.5 kilometers away north of the armed conflict areas – a safer zone, as military and police forces have set up blocking forces around the conflict areas and, so far, it seems like the authorities have contained for now the conflicts from escalating to the other parts of the city.
It is a stand-off because the government could not resolve the crisis just by force due to the fact that the MNLF intruders have taken innocent civilians as hostages, and the civilians who were not able to evacuate to safer areas, are stuck in their homes, and possibly could get hurt in the crossfire between the two warring forces. Negotiations have been carried out not only formally between government authorities and the MNLF intruders but also informally – e.g. a PMPI member, the Silsilah Dialogue Movement through Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, has initiated dialogue with the Ulama and the local Muslim leaders to resolve the armed confrontation.
As of this writing, fire has started to burn some houses in Barangay Sta. Barbara, one of the heavily affected barangays.
Status of Evacuees in Zamboanga City
Due to the incursions of some MNLF forces in six to seven villages of Zamboanga City, civilians have fled their residences and are now sheltered in three (3) evacuation areas in the city. About 1,500 evacuees are temporarily sheltered in the Zamboanga City Grandstand, 300-400 evacuees are sheltered in Tetuan Parish Center and Tetuan Central Elementary School, and around 100 evacuees are sheltered in Talon-Talon Evacuation Center. Latest reports have said that more evacuees are coming in and have now ballooned to 4,000 to 5,000 individuals. These evacuees may now include the poor people who are affected by the economic disruption due to the armed confrontation.
The city government has set up an emergency medical center at the Zamboanga General Hospital near the conflict-affected barangays of Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara and Mariki. The Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) has also offered an emergency medical assistance center inside the university gymnasium located in the western part of the city [latest report says that this is the emergency medical center previously set up near the conflict-affected areas].
As the armed confrontation continues, we need your help and your generous assistance as the number of evacuees is increasing (due to the economic disruption as well), we need a lot of relief goods, food, clothing and, in particular, cash donations. There are local agencies and institutions that are assisting the evacuees in these evacuation centers. PMPI members and the Archdiocese of Zamboanga are actively involved in the reaching out to the evacuees. I believe the Peace Advocate Zamboanga (PAZ) is also actively involved in helping out resolve this local crisis. Right now, the immediate needs of the evacuees are relief food, e.g. hot meals and more ready-made-food as much as possible (as relayed by Sr. Cel Alado of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga).
Lastly, please pray for us; for our safety and peaceful resolution of these armed conflicts; for the welfare of the evacuees; for the soldiers and opposing forces for reconciliation. (Alberto Alvin G. Valerio, ZAMBASULI Cluster Point Person)
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