- Posted September 15, 2013 by
Zamboanga City, Philippines
Zamboanga: A City Under Seige
Zamboanga City, the Philippines sixth largest city with a population of 800,000, has now entered its seventh day of siege after militant Moro National Liberation Front rebels entered the city armed and in full military uniform intent on raising their national flag over city hall and proclaiming the city as part of their self-declared independent Bangsamoro nation. Founded in 1969 by militant Islamic leader Nur Misuari, the MNLF has utilized both terrorism and political negotiations in an attempt to achieve its political goals. After the 1996 Final Peace Agreement was signed by the MNLF and the Philippines government leading to the creation of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), it was thought that tensions on the Zamboanaga peninsula would end. However, recent negotiations between the Philippines government and a splinter MNLF breakaway group, the MILF, have enraged Misuari and his MNLF followers who claim that the government has forsaken the 1996 peace agreement and left the MNLF out of current negotiations. In response, Misuari issued a proclamation of Bangsamoro national independence in August followed up this past Monday with orders to his followers to enter Zamboanga City and claim it as part of the Bangsamoro nation.
Philippines naval forces, aware of the imminent threat of MNLF rebels coming to Zamboanga, intercepted the initial landing force of an estimated 100 rebels early Monday morning. One Philippines naval personnel was killed in the subsequent firefight. MNLF rebels successfully penetrated several coastal villages on the outskirts of the city where they took up positions and burned large swaths of homes while holding as many as 200 hostages using them as human shields in an attempt to prevent the Philippines armed forces from attacking. At the time of this report fighting continues round the clock with numerous casualties on both sides. The death toll has risen day-by-day as soldiers advance on rebel held positions; the number of dead as of this morning has been reported at 53. In response to the ongoing clashes and increasing number of casualties, the government and MNLF representatives agreed upon a midnight ceasefire last night. The effort failed as both rebels and Philippines armed forces continued hostilities.
Zamboanga now faces over 80,000 displaced people who have been left homeless as a result of rebels burning large sections of residential areas and a mandatory evacuation order issued by the military in order to allow soldiers to push into rebel held territory. Evacuees are being housed in local schools, churches, etc. with the vast majority set up in the city's outdoor stadium. Tent cities have popped up in several locations around the outskirts of the city. Food and safe drinking water has been a challenge for the authorities, but conditions have improved over the last few days as the government flew in relief supplies on military cargo planes.
At the time of writing Zamboanga remains a city under siege. Fear grips the community as people witness the destruction of their homes and livelihoods. President Benigno Aquino III has vowed that the MNLF insurgency will be brought down with the overwhelming force of the Philippines government armed forces and that no rebels will be permitted to leave – a mistake the former Philippines leaders made after MNLF insurgents attacked key military installations on the Zamboanga Peninsula and Jolo island in 2001. Taking a hardline is, in my opinion, a necessary choice. The MNLF and its followers, along with many of the other militant groups who are present here in the southern Philippines, are without respect for the rule of law and the rights of innocent civilians. As such, they must be dealt with in the harshest of terms under the penalties offered by the Philippines justice system. Misuari and his followers made a conscious and deliberate choice to inflict egregious harm on the citizens of Zamboanga and they must pay for their actions. A clear message of complete intolerance of acts of rebellion, the destruction of property and the use of innocents as human shields must be sent to the MNLF and others if this madness is to come to an end once and for all.