PNoy orders troops to prevent standoff spillover outside Zambo
MalacaÑang said on Friday that government intelligence agencies have identified “possible threat areas” outside Zamboanga City, as President Benigno Aquino III ordered the military and the police to ensure that there would be no spillover on the standoff in Zamboanga City, which had already entered its 12th day.
Wartime lull. A Zamboanga City fisherman rests amid a limpid scene that belies the shattered peace in the key port city in Mindanao. AFP
Aquino made the directive even as two civilians were hit by a stray bullet as fighting resumed in a “constricted” area in Bgy. Santa Catalina, and a bus exploded in Bgy. Labuan, killing the driver and two bus employees.
“The President had already given instructions early on to make sure that they would not be able to strike anywhere else,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigal Valte. “Certainly we do not want similar incidents from happening not just in Mindanao but in any other place in the country.”
Valte added that the president had given instructions to make sure that the rebels under the Nur-Misuari led Moro National Liberation Front “would not be able to strike anywhere else.”
PNP public information office head Sr. Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, who announced the heightened alert in Metro Manila on Thursday, said the new directive did not mean that they have received any significant information of any serious threat inside the metropolis.
Sindac said the order was issued to ensure that “our policemen will be on guard and they will of course be more conscientious in their respective police stations.”
Under the alert level, Sindac said there is “target hardening” which means they are intensifying intelligence gathering and deploying more forces to potential targets.
As this developed, the military said two civilians were hit by stray bullets as fighting between government forces and the MNLF rebels resumed in Barangay Sta. Catalina.
Also, three persons were killed after a bomb exploded inside a bus in Bgy. Labuan, Zamboanga City at around 5:55 p.m.
Killed were the bus conductor and two employees of the transport firm.
Sketchy police reports said the explosion hit the Biel Transit Bus as it was approaching its terminal in Labuan.
Casualties. Volunteers lower the body of a suspected MNLF fighter killed in the standoff between the military and rebel forces during a burial on the outskirts of Zamboanga. Security forces killed eight MNLF troops as they hunted the remnants of a guerrilla force hiding in homes in the city and believed to be holding hostages. AFP
Due to the intensity of the blast, the bus burst into flames.
The police has yet to determined whether the incident is related to the ongoing standoff.
Military’s public affairs head Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, meanwhile, said clashes resumed at 6:35 p.m. at Lustre Streetm where the MNLF rebels continue to hold positions their position.
The still unidentified civilian victims were rushed to the Brent Hospital for medical treatment.
Authorities have yet to confirm reports that victims were mong the hostages.
At least four more hostages were rescued and are currently being processed by the police to make sure they were not rebels disguised as hostages.
Military officials added that The military added that six more MNLF fighters urrendered Thursday to the government forces.
It added that there are more or less 20 hostages who had remained under the custody of at least 40 MNLF fighters led by commander Habier Malik, who were making their last stand in the in the boundary of Barangay Sta. Catalina and Barangay Sta. Barbara,
There are reports, however, that Malik and his lieutenants had already escaped to Sulu.
Malik, however, apparently is still in Zambaonga after MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza said that the MNLF commander told him over the phone that they are still in there to extend the war. He also denied that he was wounded as earlier claimed by the military.
On Monday, the military reported that Malik was wounded after a fierce gunfight in Sta, Barbara, one of the last strongholds of the rebels.
“Malik is alive. They were even able to take their snacks during a lull in the fighting,” Ceverza said.
He also denied that the rebels were running out of ammunition and were demoralized by the attacks.
“They all (rebels) are willing to die for a cause. Malik is a seasoned fighter and is willing to challenge anyone,” Cerveza said.
Cerveza said the conflict would not be resolved unless the government comes out with a formula acceptable to all parties.
“Unless a good formula is raised and recommended, the conflict will still exist and the fighting would escalate. The President should pick someone who is knowledgeable of the entire situation particularly the political side of it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch said that both the Philippine Army and the rebels committed alleged serious abuses during the fighting in Zamboanga city.
Brad Adams, the HRW Asia Director, said MNLF rebels violated the human rights of the civilians when they took them as hostages and used them as human shields.
But at the same time, Adams said there were reports that the Philippine military and police have allegedly tortured or otherwise mistreated suspected rebels in custody.
According to HRW, both sides need to do all they can to prevent further loss of civilian life.
“The government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone taken into custody, including suspected rebels, are treated humanely,” Adams said.
He added that “the government will need to investigate what happened, including holding accountable members of the military and police who committed abuses” when the fighting will come to an end in Zamboanga.
As this developed, New Zealand became the seventh country to issue an advisory against travelling in Southern Philippines and “to exercise a high degree of caution” while in Mindanao and in Manila.
France,Hong Kong, United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia had earlier issued their own travel advisory against travelling in the southern part of the country.
The New Zealand government said there is “extreme risk” to their citizen’s security throughout central and western Mindanao, including Sarangani, South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Zamboang del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao including, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.