Zamboanga City still nursing wounds a year after bloody siege

Roel Pareño - The Philippine Star

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - The Zamboanga City government said its wounds have yet to heal a year after the bloody siege staged by the rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), with residents still living in fear and thousands of internally displaced people camped in evacuation centers.

Authorities and local government officials, however, assured that the city had already stood from the devastation brought by the 500 fully armed MNLF rebels that attempted to raise the Bangsamoro Republik flag right in front of the city to declare its independence from the Philippines.

“The wounds are still fresh, not totally healed but we would like to restore confidence to the people,” Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said.

Salazar issued the statement to newsmen right after the hoisting of the Philippine banner in front of the city hall on Monday, in a ceremony honoring the fallen soldiers, police and civilians who helped in defending the city against the rebels.

Salazar also assured that the resettlement of more than 5,000 families in at least four devastated villages has already started and she expects all land-based housing units to be occupied by December this year.

At least 120 loftable housing units in duplex type will be turned over to displaced families in Sitio Paniran, Barangay Sta. Catalina, said engineer Al-Kwarizimi Indanan, district manager of the National Housing Authority (NHA).

The NHA targets to establish at least 7,176 housing units aside from material assistance to home owners of at least 1,661 units.

The mayor said the housing package is part of the P3.5-billion pesos earmarked by President Benigno S. Aquino III for the rehabilitation of the devastated district of the city.

Salazar said there have been delays and back logs due to the documentation, purchase of properties and biddings.

She said it is best for the Department of National Defense, military and police to come up with their evaluation to prevent attacks in all urban centers and local government units.

She offered the city incident as a model for the authorities to study its security plan to avert any plan of attacks and determine lapses during last year's siege.

“But on the part of the city we are asking the OCD (Office of the Civil Defense) as well as the rehabilitation team to secure critical areas by repositioning police and military detachments in critical areas so that we would be able to avert the responses of the threat groups in the city,” Salazar said.

The military assured the security of the city after it strengthened the number of security forces to a bigger unit.

Col. Andrelino Colina said his unit Task Force Zamboanga has been upgraded into Joint Task Group Zamboanga, has been augmented by additional battalion of marines and was given a control of naval boat units to directly respond to any threat groups without passing protocols to unit commands.

The upgraded military unit that is securing the city is bigger than the brigade size of the military unit.

However, Colina said the threat against the city remains, citing the presence of different threat groups, including the Abu Sayyaf group, lost command rebels in the nearby island provinces of Basilan and Sulu and even those who are based in the mainland of Zamboanga peninsula.

“The threat remains while they are within the proximity, they can always target Zamboanga, but it will be different this time as we have strengthened the security,” Colina added. 












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