MANILA - The military on Monday said its intelligence group had already received reports three days ago that the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) will launch mass actions in Zamboanga City.
Armed Forces spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala laid out a timeline leading to the current MNLF-AFP standoff in Rio Hondo, Zamboanga.
Zagala said, based on an intel report, MNLF troops were deployed to the coastal barangays of Rio Hondo, Sta. Barbara, Mariqui and Sta. Catalina. Initial monitoring indicated that the MNLF group went inside the barangays unarmed, he said.
It was in Rio Hondo last night that the group was monitored to have acquired heavy firearms.
Government forces then reinforced the battalion already deployed in the area and set up containment posts to intercept the MNLF troops estimated at 200-300 men who traveled by boat and by land.
The Navy contingent encountered the group at around 1:45 am, which led to a firefight resulting in the death of a Navy man and injuring 6 others.
Five MNLF men were reportedly arrested by the Philippine National Police.
At 4 a.m., the MNLF troops tried to advance to Zamboanga City from Rio Hondo, prompting government troops to engage them in a firefight. Two civilians died and 4 others were wounded in the clash.
At 8 a.m., intel reports indicated that MNLF troops had 20 civilian hostages and were using them as human shields.
Zagala said there were sporadic firefights followed by a lull at around noon.
The military said the lives of the hostages are of prime importance. Zagala said Task Force Zamboanga will closely coordinate with the Zamboanga crisis management team to find an early resolution to the standoff.
An air assault is unlikely at this time, he said.
He emphasized that this is a breakaway faction of the MNLF and that they have already identified the leaders although he is not at liberty to name names.
What is important at this point, he said, is that the government troops have contained the rebel forces in 5 barangays, preventing what could have been a bloody attack on city hall.