Site of Zambo siege 'most crime-ridden'
MANILA, Philippines — President Benigno Aquino III chooses to look at the silver lining.
The destruction of the coastal villages of Zamboanga City during the standoff between government forces and followers of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari provides an opportunity to clean up the city's "crime-ridden" community, the President said.
"I was talking to Mayor Beng [Climaco] at the height of the crisis and I told her: 'These communities represent, shall we say, the most depressed. The most crime-ridden in your area.' If you were to try and implement urban development in this area, there would have been quite a number of resistance from the vested interests there," Aquino said.
"Perhaps we should look at the problem as an opportunity of transforming them into planned communities to the betterment, if not all, of the vast majority of the people there," the President added.
Over 10,000 houses were damaged by fires in barangays Rio Hondo, Mariki, Sta Barbara, Sta Catalina, and Kasanyangan. Aquino has alloted P3.9 billion for the rehabilitation of Zamboanga City.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is helping the evacuees, but foreign organizations have also stepped in to help.
“We have assured the Zamboanga City LGU, Mayor Climaco in particular, that we will not be scrounging for funds in terms of putting their lives back to order,” Aquino said.
The government declared on Saturday, September 28, that the Zamboanga City crisis was over. It was the 20th day of the standoff.
Government forces are still dealing with remnants of the MNLF, however. Police corporal Hakim Jaafar was killed during the clearing operations in Sta Barbara. The MNLF fighter who was hiding in one of the houses was also killed. His M14 rifle was recovered.
PNP clearing operations
The Philippine National Police Task Force Suyud has so far cleared 130 houses, according to Western Mindanao police spokesperson Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca.
Government institutions and establishments were also cleared — such as the Zamboanga City Medical Center, National Statistics Office, DSWD Region 9, Barangay Hall Zone 4, Hall of Justice, City Social Development Center, Plaza Del Pilar, Fort Pilar, Department of Budget and Management, Bureau of Internal Revenue, and Central Bank, among others.
They also found 165 unexploded ordnance items including rifle grenades, hand grenades, and 40 mm grenade launcher ammunition.
At least 30 cadavers of suspected MNLF members were also recovered. Out of the total, Huesca said 21 were already in a state of decomposition.
Where is Malik?
But how about Misuari's top lieutenant, Commander Habier Malik, who led the attack? “With regards to Malik, we are not ready yet to make a positive statement as to his status. There are tests that are being conducted, among them DNA testing, to determine precisely his status,” said Aquino.
The MNLF detainees will be moved to another facilty to avoid “a temptation for their cohorts to try and spring them out and be a source of tension within the community of Zamboanga City.”
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima will also go to Zamboanga to check the cases that will be filed against them.
The government said it has evidence and witnesses to directly link the attack to Misuari. No cases have been filed against the MNLF founder, but Aquino said they are already discussing a possible reward for his capture.
Aquino also remains confident about the peace process with the MNLF's rival group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The MNLF launched the attack as the government and MILF negotiators sought to complete talks on power-sharing and normalization.
“I think there is one document pending on my desk now, iyong hopefully this will be the last of the clarificatory points... and afterwards, we can proceed to completing the annexes on the framework agreement,” Aquino said. — Rappler.com