Zambo conflict reignites Binay-Roxas rivalry

Roel Pareño - The Philippine Star

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Amid the raging firefight between government troops and rebels in the city, the political rivalry between Vice President Jejomar Binay and Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II has been reignited.

Roxas rejected the proposal of Binay to call for a ceasefire with the rebels, who have occupied the city since Monday and are holding civilians hostage.

Roxas asserted they have to follow President Aquino’s orders to come down hard on the Misuari-led faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Roxas said the President’s order was clear without taking any option of calling for a ceasefire with the rebels.

“It was quite clear what the President’s order is and we are just following,” Roxas said.

Binay flew in here yesterday to discuss his proposal of ceasefire with President Aquino, who stayed overnight to oversee the security situation.

Binay said he had an agreement with Nur Misuari and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin for a truce, which was supposed to take effect midnight yesterday.

The Office of the Vice President, however, could not provide exact details as to what Misuari was demanding for the ceasefire.

Quoting sources, GMA-7 reported Misuari wanted a safe conduct pass for his men in Zamboanga City that the government rejected.

While Binay was meeting with the President, Roxas chose to face reporters for the press briefing on the ongoing crisis.

Zamboanga Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar added the ceasefire option of Binay was not coordinated with the local crisis management committee.

Gazmin, for his part, maintained there was no ceasefire to speak of.

He said any truce was dependent on a ceasefire from the rebels.

“We will only stop firing at them when they stop firing at our troops and the civilians,” he said.

The truce was apparently broken after heavy fighting between the government forces and the MNLF faction continued on its sixth day.

The military said 55 people were killed, including 47 rebels, five soldiers and policemen and three civilians.

Roxas told a news briefing yesterday of eyewitness reports that the rebels were trying to hide their casualties.

“There were eyewitness reports that in some of the fires that were set, they were used as burial fire either to honor their dead or conceal their casualties,” Roxas said.

The fighting also forced some 70,000 people to flee their homes and have been given temporary shelter. Most of them were from the six coastal barangays of the city that were occupied by the rebels since the fighting broke out Monday.

Flights were also cancelled while banks, shops, offices and some gasoline stations remained closed during the week.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees helped by providing relief missions through the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to the evacuees in Zamboanga City.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development also stepped up its relief assistance efforts by providing relief goods to the thousands of evacuees displaced by the fighting in Zamboanga City.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said there were more than 24,000 evacuees in 18 evacuation centers throughout Zamboanga City. – With Jose Rodel Clapano, Rainier Allan Ronda, John Unson, Evelyn Macairan

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