From the Zamboanga Today (Sep 29): City gov’t holds flag-raising to honor fallen soldiers at AFP’s WestMinCom
Government forces and the city’s Crisis Management Committee headed by Mayor Beng Climaco as well as some teachers and boy scouts gathered at Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) headquarters’ ground yesterday to honor soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for the defense of Zamboanga City.
In honor of the fallen soldiers, Defense Chief Voltaire Gazmin, accompanied by Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and other top military officials, led the flag raising ceremony.
Prayers for the fallen soldiers, including three junior officers, were recited by a Muslim chaplain of the military and a Christian religious leader, respectively. Then later the Philippine flag was raised to a half-mast.
Gazmin on the AFP’s twitter account said the crisis in Zamboanga City where government troops intensely fought members of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) loyal to Nur Misuari for 20 days is finally over.
“Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin declares Zamboanga standoff over... still searching for Commander Habier Malik...,” the AFP twitter said.
Gazmin told reporters that all hostages have already been accounted for and that their mission has been accomplished. But Gazmin said they will still continue the clearing operations in the city.
Media reported that government forces are now checking on “concerned areas” for remnants of Misuari’s followers and for improvised explosives the rebels may have left behind.
In Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte confirmed Gazmin’s statament posted in the AFP twitter.
According to Valte, the government’s goal from September 9 was to ensure the safety of hostages and make sure civilians are out of harm’s way, and this has already been accomplished.
Observers said although government forces have swept into the MNLF-held areas in Sta Barbara, Sta Catalina, Rio Hondo, Talon-Talon, Mariki, and other areas, but Malik’s whereabouts is unknown.
They said media reported that there has been word from Reverend Absalom Cerveza, the MNLF spokesman for the Misuari faction, that he received a text message from Malik who had vowed to fight “to the end” saying they are ready for whatever fate awaits them in Zamboanga City.
Quoting Cerveza as saying, the media also reported that Malik’s group is ready for whatever fate awaits them in Zamboanga City.
Cerveza fears more blood will be shed as he said the MNLF rebels in Zamboanga City are the “hardcore” fighters of the group who were willing to fight to the death with no payment.
Meanwhile, Mayor Climaco disclosed that government forces’ clearing operation is still being conducted in declared concern areas.
“We are still on phase 1 and it will take two weeks for phase 2,” she said.
The crisis began when members of the Misuari MNLF faction and his top commander Malik attacked six villages and held hostage dozens of civilians in the city last September 9.
Government forces on Friday had already rescued the last six civilians held hostage by the rebel group, according to AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.
Zagala said they were told these were the last group of people held by the rebels and have already accounted for 195 hostages. He admitted they are still searching for Malik.
According to him, the AFP is now assessing the testimonies of the MNLF fighters who surrendered or were captured as well as the rescued hostages to locate the whereabouts of Malik.
About 200 people, including 166 rebels, have been killed and more than 100,000 residents of the city were displaced.
The AFP said 246 rebels have been captured, 7 of whom are females, 6 are minors, while the rest are males.
The fighting between government troops and the MNLF have resulted to the deaths of 12 civilians. Seventy-two more were injured.
The conflict has also left homes in ruin and brought businesses at a standstill.
An estimated P195 million was lost in fires that hit nearly 10,000 buildings, houses, other structures in Zamboanga.