Zamboanga feast pushes through sans festivities
Roel Pareño (The Philippine Star) - October 3, 2013 - 6:20pm

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - The Feast of Pilar started Thursday minus the colorful festival and cultural activities due to the security following the standoff that shut down the city for 22 days, church and city officials said.

Mosignor 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 in the Centro Pastoral, a retreat center and office of the archbishop. 

Monongas said they have decided to hold the novena mass in the Centro Pastoral instead of the usual mass at the Shrine of the Pilar at the Fort Pilar due to security reason. 

The shrine is located at the border of the Sta. Barbara and Rio Hondo, the site of the deadly 22-day standoff when the Misuari-faction Moro National Liberation Front rebels led by Habier Malik attempted to take the city under siege on Sept. 9.

Mongas also called on to start working for peace and reconciliation as he asked the devotees of the Virgin of Pilar 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,” Monongas said. 

Fr. Butch Candido, the shrine administrator, said the shrine will be opened for private devotion during the day time except for holding the mass considering 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 the street parades and street dancing as the grandstand where the festival will be held is currently occupied by more than 100,000 evacuees.

Among the festival the city will miss is the regatta, which is known in the city due to the colorful vinta sails. 

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

The police and military conducting the clearing phase under Chief Supt. Carmelo Valmoria, chief of the Special Action Force, have already cleared the Shrine of Pilar along with 10 other government vital installations and the mosque in Sta. Barbara.

The other installations cleared by the police and military forces include the Hall of Justice, regional Land Transportation Office, Department of Budget and Management (DBM), National Statistics Office, National Museum at the Fort Pilar, Plaza del Pilar amusement center, Women Crisis Center, Sta. Barbara barangay hall, and the Sta. Barbara mosque.

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

The Hall of Justice have visible marks of bullets and a blast hole where an RPG ordnance was stuck and removed by the explosive ordnance and explosive personnel. 

“In behalf of Secretary (Florencio) Abad, we thank the police and military forces for protecting the government structure. We have minor damage and it could have been worse without their protection,” Annabel Echaves, a representative of the DBM said. 

Assistant City Administrator Elmeir Apolinario welcomed the turnover of the structures as a progressive development of rebuilding back the city from the ruins.

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