Zambo clearing operations may take 2 more weeks
MANILA, Philippines - The military has no immediate plans to pull out troops from Zamboanga City even as officials have declared the crisis over after 22 days of clashes between government troops and members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)-Nur Misuari faction.
Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said soldiers would continue to support law enforcers in clearing operations, which might take about two weeks.
“During this two-week period, we will help them (in the clearing operations). We will pull out one unit just to rest but they will be replaced,” Zagala said.
Zagala said they have no plans to downsize their troops in the area, which is still reeling from recent clashes between state forces and followers of Misuari.
“This is now a law enforcement operation and based on this we are looking for stragglers,” he said.
Zagala called on the remnants of the Misuari faction to surrender, saying resisting was useless.
Where is Malik?
Meanwhile, officials are still unsure about the whereabouts of MNLF commander Habier Malik, the leader of the rebels involved in the 20-day crisis that began Sept. 9.
“We cannot tell yet whether he (Malik) is dead or captured or whether he escaped. If he escaped, I’m sure he won’t repeat it again. It will take a long time before he can launch another offensive like that,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.
An identification card of Malik was found last Sunday on one of the bodies recovered in Zamboanga City but officials said the dead rebel is not the MNLF commander.
“I know it’s important that we find Malik but really, we have to find out the real commander,” Zagala said.
Gazmin said the justice department is determining the liability of Misuari in the siege, which left hundreds of people dead and thousands displaced.
The military, however, is convinced that the MNLF commanders received orders from Misuari.
Zagala said Misuari may still be in Sulu but did not elaborate.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II assured the public of sufficient security to prevent the escape of the captured MNLF fighters.
Roxas, who stayed for almost 20 days in Zamboanga City, issued the assurance as some quarters raised concern over the safety of the residents near the San Ramon Jail where the MNLF members are detained.
“There were sufficient forces there – more than 90 PNP with Marine contingent, plus armored personnel carrier and BJMP augmentation in addition to the regular number of guards in the facility,” Roxas told The STAR.
Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo of Western Mindanao Command and Special Action Force chief Director Carmelo Valmoria would further assess the security situation, said Roxas.
The DILG chief earlier said the situation in Zamboanga City is now returning to normal.
Meanwhile, the Navy will send one ship to Zamboanga City to bring relief goods to affected residents.
Navy spokesman Lt. Commander Gregory Fabic said BRP Benguet, a landing ship tank, would start loading relief goods and construction materials today at the Naval Base Heracleo Alano in Cavite City.
“BRP Benguet will depart as soon as the loading of said relief goods and construction materials are completed,” Fabic said.
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The Zamboanga crisis has affected more than 118,000 persons, according to latest data by the Office of Civil Defense.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) assured the evacuees that security measures have been enhanced at the evacuation center in the JPE Sports Complex where thousands of residents are now sheltered.
The DSWD said that a Gender-Based Grievance Desk has been established inside the evacuation center to handle all reports on gender-based violence. The grievance desk is located beside the Welfare Inquiry Desk.
Additional policemen were assigned in the evacuation center.
More lights were installed to ensure that no areas of the JPE Sports Complex could be used for any dubious or criminal acts.
The safety of evacuees in all evacuation centers set up to provide temporary shelter to the more than 100,000 people displaced by the conflict, especially children, drew concern following reports that a 5-year-old girl was abused inside the sports complex.
“Additional security measures were recently installed in partnership with the PNP to ensure the safety and protection of the more than 11,000 families still staying inside the evacuation center,” said DSWD Assistant Secretary Camilo Gudmalin. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Rainier Allan Ronda, Roel Pareño