Thursday, September 26, 2013

PHILIPPINES: Moros take the battle to Zamboanga

Clashes broke out on Mindanao in the early hours of Monday 9 Sept, between rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) intent on marching into Zamboanga city to raise their flag over the city hall and declare independence, and Philippine Army troops blocking their path.
Rebel elements occupied Lustre, Santa Catalina and neighbouring barangays (villages), seizing an estimated 170 residents to use as human shields. 

That evening, Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said in a statement, that the MNLF rebels were holding at least 87 people hostage in Kasanyangan, 20 at the Santa Catalina mosque, 20 at the Talon-talon mosque, 10 in Camacop Santa  Barbara, and an undetermined number of people at the SDK building and the Fernandez store in Lustre.

Abdul Sahrin, secretary-general of the Moro National Liberation Front, blamed the faction of former MNLF leader Nur Misuari, a Moro nationalist, for carrying out the attack which led to over 2000 people being immediately displaced.

But Monday 9 Sept was just the beginning.

By 13 September, the crisis had displaced 5,600 families or 24,880 people. By 14 Sept, the death toll had reached 52 (43 MNLF rebels) and the number of displaced / "evacuees" had risen to 39,260.

By 15 Sept, the total number of "evacuees" had reach 61,838; by 16 Sept it was 72,159; and by 17 Sept it was 82,106. By 18 Sept the number of evacuees had risen to 110,000, and by this time 1,114 homes had been burned, several car bombs had been detonated and the number the hostages had risen to 149.

By 20 Sept, the tide was turning with only around 50 fighters remaining in Zamboanga city.

By 22 Sept, a sense of "normalcy" was starting to return, however numerous infectious diseases had broken out amongst the children holed up in Zamboanga's evacuation centres, including measles, upper respiratory tract infections, diarrhoea, and various skin diseases.

That evening Philippine media reported that 99 MNLF fighters had been killed and 117 had either been captured or had surrendered. By 6pm on Thursday 25 Sept, that figure had risen to 125 MNLF fighters dead. "There were also 136 who have surrendered excluding the 36 who have surrendered earlier."

See TIMELINE: Crisis in Zamboanga City
By Andrei Medina, GMA News (updated regularly)

GMA news reported on Monday 23 Sept, 15 days into the crisis, that government troops had found drug paraphernalia in buildings occupied by the rebels. Philippine Army 7th Civil Relations Group commander Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said a captured rebel had tested positive methamphetamine hydrochloride. "They are using Shabu to make them more ferocious and pitiless," he said.

On Wed 25 Sept, it was believed that around 20 hostages were still being held captive by MNLF fighters.  By this time some 10,160 homes had been burned.

On the evening of Thursday 26 Sept, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesman for the military, said 162 MNLF forces had been captured and 138 had been killed since the start of the crisis on 9 Sept.  It was also reported that a total of 188 hostages had been rescued, including six rescued that day. 

Today, Friday 27 Sept, 19 days into the crisis, the fighting has not yet finished; however the rebels are splintered, hungry and running out of ammunition. When the fighting does end, "Phase 2" of the operation will commence. That will involve clearing the area of bodies, booby traps and bombs.

Julie S. Alipala reports for Inquirer Mindanao (Friday 27 Sept 2013): "Death is in the air in the villages of Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara and Rio Hondo here, with the bodies of slain Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels rotting on the battlefield.

"Col. Ignacio Obligacion, commander of Task Force Igsoon, said on Thursday he had been requesting the Crisis Management Committee, through the village officials, to send something to cover the stench.

"'The stench has been there for days. I’m worried about an outbreak of disease,' Obligacion said.

"One task force officer, who asked not to be named, said his unit had to end the fighting as quickly as possible because the stench had become unbearable."

Journalist Carolyn O. Arguillas describes the situation, saying Zamboanga City is "down on its knees with a humanitarian crisis of a scale never before experienced."

For background and an explanation of why MNLF has renewed its war with the Government of the Republic of Philippines, see:

PHILIPPINES: Religious Liberty in Bangsamoro
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 180
By Elizabeth Kendal, 10 Oct 2012

For more on the MNLF claim, see:
Moros take the battle to Sabah.
Having already lost their liberty, Sabah's Christians now face losing their peace.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 15 March 2013

See also: Philippines struggles with Muslim rebels
By Richard Heydarian, Asia Times online, 24 Sept 2013

In 2008, the Government of the Republic of Philippines, led then by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, brokered a peace deal with the MILF that essentially created an Islamic sub-state within the state in violation of the constitution. The Supreme Court had to intervene on the eve of the signing to issue a restraining order. The MILF responded by unleashing terror across North Cotabato.
See Philippines: Update on Gov-MILF peace deal.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 14 Aug 2008

And now history repeats itself. For by brokering a peace deal with the MILF that violates its peace deal with the MNLF, short-sighted politicians more interested in securing a legacy for themselves than doing the right thing have, yet again, unleashed disaster upon the long-suffering peoples of the southern Philippines.

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)