14,300 displaced in Zamboanga siege
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (4th UPDATE) - Sapiah Wahid, 14, takes care of 8 children, the youngest being 3 months old, in the city's Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Grandstand here.
She was left there by her parents and grandmother, who chose to stay at their house in fear that it might get burned. Her cousin was shot Monday, September 9, in the head and the back, on the first day of the siege by followers of Nur Misuari. Her grandmother treated her cousin’s gunshot wounds after he was rejected by a hospital.
Sapiah is only one of thousands crammed into the grandstand as soldiers and rebels fought street battles in deserted coastal neighborhoods nearby.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development in Region 9 said that as of Wednesday, September 11, a total of 14,322 evacuees have fled the villages occupied by Misuari's followers. Of this number, around 1,226 families composed of 5,632 persons are staying in 15 evacuation centers.
Thousands continued to flee their homes Wednesday, the third day of the bloody siege.
"We're trying our best to provide decent facilities for them," government social worker Beth Dy told AFP, but added the venue only had 4 portable toilets and no available bedding.
About 5,000 residents from the 6 communities under siege arrived overnight and some had no choice but to pitch makeshift tents on the grass, she added.
In Barangay Santa Catalina, Philippine marines exchanged fire Wednesday with gunmen who were using 10 residents on a roadside as apparent human shields, an AFP photographer said.
One of the residents was waving a white cloth tied to a pole, he added.
Hot and cramped
According to Regine Mendoza, a relief volunteer from the Ateneo de Zamboanga University, people are "fighting against the heat, improper sanitary measures, and the crowded conditions in the grandstand."
"Long lines are established during food distributions, though instructions sometimes cause confusion among the people," Mendoza said on Tuesday, September 10. She and other volunteer workers returned to the Grandstand on Wednesday, September 11 and said the situation is "worse."
"Comparing it to yesterday's scene, it is more chaotic and packed with people. Actually, it looks like their new found home. People started putting up their own "tents" all around the grandstand. Food distribution is now being done in open space. People who were lining up for food are stressed out and intensely hungry, the heat of the sun adding up to their burdens. Foul smell is highlighted due to improper sanitation and scarce sources of water," Mendoza told Rappler.
Zamboanga City Hall communication officer Christian Olasiman said there are 15 evacuation centers in different barangays, including the Tetuan Church, Tetuan Elementary School, Mampang Elementary School, Talon-Talon National High School, and the DPWH compound.
"We are trying to address the situation... to gather them in one area para mas mabilis yung pagbigay ng tulong," Olasiman said. (We are trying to address the situation...to gather them in one area to expedite the delivery of aid)
Olasiman added that residents seek shelter in churches and barangay halls whenever conflict breaks out.
Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman visited the evacuation centers on Wednesday, September 11, to check on the conditions and distribute relief packs. Soliman said over P2 million worth of aid has been donated for the evacuees.
The DSWD has set up 3 community kitchens to provide hot meals to families at the grandstand while the City Health Office and private hospitals established a makeshift hospital at the same venue.
It is a temporary solution to a situation with no clear end in sight.
A curfew from 8 pm to 5 am is in place. Classes remain cancelled in all levels while work is suspended within the city.
The latest attack on Zamboanga is led by a top Misuari lieutenant, Habier Malik, and has left 12 people dead and 21 others injured, said military spokesman Lt Col Ramon Zagala.
The latest fatality was an MNLF gunman whose body was recovered in one of the areas where the gunmen are holed up, he said in an interview on ABS-CBN television.
Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco Salazar told the station that local officials had been negotiating with Malik to free residents and leave the city, without much success. She said Misuari could not be found.
"Our main priority really is the safety of all the hostages. The military should come in and try to secure the hostages and defend the city from further intrusion," she added.
There has been some confusion over whether the residents are being held against their will and the government Tuesday said it was investigating whether they were hostages.
"It appears that what happened is not hostage-taking but more of them being turned into human shields by the MNLF forces who entered their communities," Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said.
Zagala said the troops only had orders to surround the gunmen at this point, ensure the safety of the residents and prevent the crisis from spreading to other areas. - with reports from Regine Mendoza, David Lozada, David Falcatan, and Agence France-Presse/ Rappler.com