Subdued celebration for Feast of Pilar in Zamboanga
Roel Pareño (The Philippine Star) - October 5, 2013 - 12:00am

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Life goes on for Zamboangeñoes as the Feast of Pilar has kicked off but under a subdued atmosphere.

The festival started Thursday but without its famous colorful cultural activities due to the tight security in the city that survived the three-week siege by gunmen of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Monsignor Crisologo Manongas, officer-in-charge of the archdiocese here, said the Feast of the Pilar started the celebration only through Novena Mass every morning and afternoon.

Manongas said they have decided to hold the Mass in the Centro Pastoral instead of the traditional site at the Shrine of the Pilar at Fort Pilar for security reasons.

The shrine is situated between the villages of Sta. Barbara and Rio Hondo, where the fiercest gun battles between government forces and MNLF rebels took place for 22 days.

Hundreds of civilians were taken hostage and their houses burned while the military sought to dislodge the rebels from the villages.

Manongas appealed to start working for peace and reconciliation in the city while asking the faithful to become instruments of peace.

“The only way for peace is for forgiveness and understanding each others’ differences and live together as Christians, Muslims and Lumads,” Manongas said.

Fr. Butch Candido, the shrine administrator, said the shrine would be opened for private devotion during daytime, except for holding Mass because of the security situation.

“We were anticipating the possible huge flock of devotees to come so security has to be considered,” Candido said.

City Administrator Antonio Orendain Jr. said the city canceled all parades and street dancing at the grandstand where the festival is supposed to be held since the site is currently occupied by more than 100,000 evacuees.

The festival is famous for its Regatta, featuring the colorful sails of the vinta boats in the city.

Orendain also cited the security threat in the cancellation of the parades but some of the in-house cultural shows will push through but under “controlled environment.”

Government forces are conducting clearing operations in the six villages occupied by rebels during the three-week siege.

The police and military have already cleared the Shrine of Pilar, along with other government vital installations and a mosque in Sta. Barbara.

The other installations cleared by the police and military forces included the buildings of government agencies in the region.

The Hall of Justice building is riddled with bullet holes and mortar blasts. An unexploded RPG rocket was removed from the face of the building by the police.

A brief program was held during the turnover ceremony of the installations where officials expressed their gratitude to the police and military for protecting the properties during the fighting.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima, who flew in Friday, led the awarding ceremonies to honor the policemen involved in the successful operation against the rebels.

Purisima also awarded posthumous medals to the policemen killed during the operation and assured their grieving families of assistance.

Among those who received the awards were members of the police Special Action Force (SAF) and the Regional Police Safety Battalion (RPSB).

“You are all heroes in the eyes of the Filipino people,” Purisima said.

For her part, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman called on international humanitarian organizations, civil society organizations, and non-government organizations to help in the effort to rebuild the city of Zamboanga.

Soliman said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) was already deep in the early recovery and rehabilitation efforts in Zamboanga City with the city government, and other agencies mapping out the services that should be done in the next few months.

As of yesterday, 23,794 families or 118,819 people have been affected by the Zamboanga crisis. Of this number, 18,432 families or 98,789 people are still staying in 35 evacuation centers.

Families outside evacuation centers or those who are staying in their friends’ or relatives’ houses number 3,153 families with 9,462 persons.

On the other hand, Vice President Jejomar Binay announced the Pag-IBIG Fund has approved the calamity loan application of its members in Zamboanga City affected by the fighting.

“Pag-IBIG is committed to help ease the suffering of the people of Zamboanga and assist them as they recover from the crisis,” Binay said. – With Rainier Allan Ronda, Jose Rodel Clapano


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