“When they entered (Zambo), there were naval patrols already; and there was an exchange of gunfire, we contained them in the four barangays we mentioned.” – Pres. Noynoy Aquino
By JOHN RIZLE SALIGUMBA
Zamboanga City – There is yet no ceasefire in place, consistent with what President Benigno Aquino III said Sept 13 that since Day One, the government is bent on launching military operations.
But he said later the military operations’ “primary objective” is preventing the “unnecessary loss of lives.”
How to prevent further losses, he did not elaborate during his troop visit at the Philippine Army’s Western Mindanao Command on Sept 13, Friday, where he dished out to soldiers 3,000 cell cards, candies, and financial support.
As evening of Sept. 13 (five days since the stand-off), the fighting already claimed 22 lives, wounded 52 and displaced over 20,000 families.
“Yung ginagawa natin ngayon may military operations na from day one. Papasok pa lang sila, may naval patrols na; nagkaroon na ng sagupaan, kinontian na natin dito sa mga barangay na tinutukoy, apat na barangay, (We are doing military operations from day one. When they entered here, there were naval patrols already; and there was an exchange of gunfire, we contained them in the four barangays we mentioned.)” Aquino said.
Aquino said that the containment of MNLF forces is being handled by state forces whose number and equipment have become “overwhelming” from a mere “sufficient.”
“Kung ano’ng plano talaga nila en masse, or two hundred or so, pupunta sa City Hall, magtatayo ng bandila, hindi sila naka-penetrate, ah, sa heart of Zamboanga, kung tutuusin (What they had planned en masse, or two hundred or so, to go to the City Hall, to hoist the flag, they did not penetrate the heart of Zamboanga),” Aquino said.
The President said that he will not set any deadline for the resolution of the situation but will act based on “decision points.”
“Deadline, why do we have to set deadlines? But we have decision point. Like if they harm hostages, or they burned these barangays where they are now, and other lines that they should not cross, our security forces already had instructions from us on what to do,” he said in mixed Filipino and English.
At about 3pm Friday, amidst heavy fire in Sta. Catalina, state forces attempted several times to enter the rebel hold. Accompanied by APCs, aided by snipers, hundreds of troops stormed the area but were allegedly stopped by IEDs placed inside backpacks on the way of the APCs.
At 4:30 pm, a rocket, allegedly a mortar round, hit a tank in Lustre street, the entrance to barangay Catalina. The media and other ground troops backed away only to witness a second hit, believed to be by a mortar round. It hit several emergency responders of the Red Cross and police officers securing the area. Some 11 Red Cross personnel were injured.
With regards to negotiations, Aquino said the negotiating panels have been doing their job. “Tandaan na lang natin na nag-umpisa ito, ayaw tayong kausapin. Tapos nagharap ng paraang para tayo makausap. Sabihin na lang natin na it’s a revolving story (Let’s remember that it started with them not wanting to talk to us. Then a way for us to talk was put together. Let’s just say it’s a revolving story,” Aquino said.
Last night, Vice President Jejomar Binay claimed that DND Sec. Voltaire Gazmin and Nur Misuari committed to a ceasefire set at 12 midnight but gunfight continues as of press time.
Mayor Beng Climaco was quoted in social media as saying that she wants to “end it now.” A post in her Facebook page also calls on barangay officials to help defend their communities by coordinating with the army and police.
Meanwhile, President Aquino himself admitted he could not say for sure that the government has made full compliance of the peace agreement it has made with the MNLF in 1996.
“Pag tinignan mo nga yung score card, ano ba ang pinag-usapan nung 1996? Ano ba ang nagawa ng gobyerno, hindi lang nung ating administrasyon pero nung mga nauna na. At hindi ko nga masasabi sa inyo na substantial yung mga compliance natin dun sa agreement eh. Parang ang pwede ko pang sabihin sa inyo yung parte na hindi nag-comply, may hinihintay tayo mula sa kabilang panig, (When you look at the score card, what was negotiated in 1996? What has the government done, not only our administration but also those from the past. I can’t tell you that our compliance with the agreement had been substantial. Perhaps what we can say to you is, in the parts that were not complied with, we are waiting from the other party),” said Aquino.
He noted “for instance there were amendments to the law needed, amendment to the organic act to autonomous region.”
President Aquino said that Nur Misuari, then the Chairman of a still undivided MNLF, was yet to give his input to the changes in the law. However, he said, it was Misuari himself who stopped there.
To view the transcript of President Benigno Aquino III’s Sept 13 press conference in Zambo, see government website here