Naval detachment to rise from Zambo siege ground zero

MANILA, Philippines – A naval detachment will be constructed in barangays Rio Hondo and Mariki in Zamboanga City, sites of bloody gun battles between the military and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in September 2013.

The project is a component of the Zamboanga City Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction Plan to complement the existing patrol base in the area.

It will get a budget allocation of P143.67 million ($3.3 million) out of the total P3.5 billion ($80.4 million) budget of the entire plan, based on the latest situation report of the Zamboanga City Public Information Office (PIO). A part of the budget – P2.56 million ($58,850) was already spent for land acquisition and shelter, among others.

It's a very strategic site for the military, Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr told reporters during his visit to Zamboanga City on Saturday, August 2. He said he expects the project to be completed by 2015.

"We will be putting up a forward operating base so that threats coming from outside Zamboanga City can be checked. We can also use the white sand beach as a staging area. We will put guards here so that we will see those who are entering the city," Catapang said. 

"It's a Navy forward operating base. There will be naval ships there and Marines will be deployed there. The approaches to the city will be controlled," he said.

Followers of MNLF commander Habier Malik on September 9, 2013, seized coastal villages of Zamboanga City with the aim of advancing to the city hall to hoist their own flag. Malik was lamenting then how the peace talks with rival group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would supercede the 1996 peace talks with the MNLF that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Completion of peace talks with MILF will abolish the existing ARMM to create the new Bangsamoro entity that will enjoy wider powers and autonomy.

The crisis that shut down Zamboanga City killed 183 MNLF fighters, 18 soldiers, 5 cops, and 12 civilians, based on military statistics. A total of 195 hostages were rescued and 292 MNLF fighters either surrendered or were captured. (READ: Zambo Crisis: Fog of war)

Up to 10,000 houses were burned. Ten months since the siege, up to 25,000 residents remain in evacuation centers, most of them are taking temporary shelter at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Grandstand. (READ: SONA Fact Check: 25,000 still in Zambo evacuation centers)

For territorial defense, too

The site is also strategic in terms of territorial defense, said Catapang.

"We need to secure our borders with Malaysia," Catapang said, citing global threats of trafficking and smuggling. "Our fellow Filipinos are being questioned and deported. These are all part of protecting our people in a very globalized world."

He said navy choppers will be housed there. The city's Majini Pier will also be developed.

Catapang also hopes increased military presence in the city will result in investors confidence.

"It's all part of winning the peace so that the investors will come in. We have big fishing areas here," he said. 

The military and the city rehabiliation team have inspected the waterway where the facility will be constructed, according to a July 21 report of the Zamboanga City PIO.

"The group discussed on ground the status or development of the proposed military reservation facility. Together with the other stakeholders, the group also made a reassessment of the Rio Hondo and Mariki areas to determine the need for additional facilities or structures including housing sites if possible," reads the report. –