Zamboanga City under siege
MNLF Rebels Kill 6, Hold Hundreds Hostage In Pre-Dawn Attack
ZAMBOANGA CITY – About 600 fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) staged a pre-dawn attack on the city yesterday, killing at least six people, including a soldier and a policeman, injuring 24 others and holding hostage about 220 medical workers and patients of the Zamboanga City Regional Hospital and some other civilians of Barangay Sta. Catalina in this city.
While the attack was staged before dawn yesterday, the military admitted they had already monitored the entry of loose MNLF members in the city three days earlier.
Information reaching the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headquarters in Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo showed that the initial clash between government forces and Moro rebels belonging to the faction of former MNLF chairman Nur Misuari occurred at sea around 1:45 a.m. off the coast of Barangay Rio Hondo in the city.
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, the AFP public affairs office chief, said the first encounter was between the Navy’s elite Special Operations Group (NAVSOG) and the MNLF rebels. One Navy man was killed and six others were wounded in the initial clash.
Zagala noted that the AFP received information from Task Force Zamboanga and its Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) that rogue MNLF forces were already monitored three days prior to the attack.
On Sunday night, Zagala said troops from Wesmincom, specifically the Task Force Zamboanga, were deployed all over Zamboanga particularly in the Rio Hondo area, Sta. Barbara, Talon-Talon, and Mariki.
At around 1:45 a.m. a NAVSOG team through a maritime interdiction intercepted a group of armed MNLF members. A 10-minute firefight at sea then ensued resulting in the death of one NAVSOG member and wounding of six others.
By 4 a.m., Zagala said government forces were able to cordon off Rio Hondo, Sta. Barbara, and Talon-Talon where the rebels were holed up.
“These are coastal barangays where these MNLF came from,” Zagala said, adding: “We wanted to make sure that they will not be able to get out from these barangays.”
“As a result, there is a standoff in the area,” said Zagala.
The official went on to say that some 20 civilians were believed to have been taken hostage by the rebels in Barangay Sta. Catalina. The village is about one to two kilometers away from the city hall.
“We prevented them from coming out, but right now the situation has changed because they have hostages. They are using these hostages as human shields to try to penetrate the line that we have already established last night. This is so that they could enter the city, and we will not let that happen,” Zagala said.
The military said the MNLF members were armed with high caliber firearms.
“But we have enough forces there to include armor assets and we even have air cover so, as we speak, we are still holding that area and we are preventing them from coming out,” Zagala said.
Reports reaching the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said the rebels are led by a certain Commander Hussein Hasim.
The Hasim-led MNLF rebel group has raised at least three initial demands, according to the NBI. Their first demand was to talk to Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle “Beng” Climaco. They also wanted that they be allowed to parade the Bangsamoro flag around Zamboanga City, together with the hostages. The third demand was for them to be able to find a safe place to sleep for the night.
“MNLF troops were allegedly pushing their way to Zamboanga City Hall for the purpose of racing their flag, the Bangsamoro flag, thereat but were cut short by the forces of the government,” the NBI report said.
As of 4 p.m., the report described Zamboanga City as “a ghost town.”
“MNLF forces refuse to withdraw but instead are pushing their way onwards the city hall. As of report time, firefight are still ongoing and both sides are holding their respective current positions. Checkpoints have been set up by the MNLF group in the area of Barangay Sta. Barbara,” the report said.
The military gave the initial number of fatalities at three, but Mayor Beng Cimaco said there were at least six dead from the incident.
Climaco likewise said that aside from the 20 hostages in Sta. Catalina, the rebels also took hostage more than 200 people at Kasanyangan village in Mampang.
Reports said around 300 MNLF fighters are still occupying the heavily populated barangays of Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina and Kasanyangan while the remaining MNLF forces were stationed in adjacent villages.
One of the MNLF leader Simin Husin claimed they have around 1,000 forces inside the city and about 300 of them are concentrated in the barangays of Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina, Kasanyagan, and Rio Hondo.
Incoming and outgoing commercial flights to Zamboanga City were cancelled by commercial airlines companies due to the ongoing crisis.
All sea ports here have been place under heavy guard and have denied outgoing and incoming ferry boats and other light water craft from leaving and docking at the port.
The city’s commercial district has virtually turned into a “ghost city” after commercial establishments, stalls at public markets, universities, government offices and restaurants closed shops.
President Benigno S. Aquino III met yesterday afternoon with the Security Cluster in Malacañang and directed all concerned agencies to ensure the safety of the civilians in the area.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the President was briefed by the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) on the developments in Zamboanga. (With reports from Leonard D. Postrado, Madel Sabater-Namit, Aaron B. Recuenco, Mike U. Crismundo, Alexander D. Lopez, Anjo Perez, Jenny F. Manongdo, and Malu Cadelina Manar)