Still struggling Print
Sunday, 03 June 2018 17:03



The warning came a day before the bloody attack. Cellphones were lighting up with messages from the four corners of the city, announcing an attack by insurgents of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) whose leader, Prof. Nur Misuari, was furious by the non-inclusion of his rebel group in the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“It’s like the boy who cried wolf rumor,” said a friend. It wasn’t. This time the wolf was coming to huff and puff and blow the city in. Before the roosters’ crow, rapid gunshots erupted. Machine guns and exploding grenade launchers woke up a terrified city. The raiders started burning down houses and taking in hostages, including a priest, as they tried to advance toward City Hall where they would have planted their flag.

That was September 9, 2013. Almost five years after that bloody siege, we quaver at how the insurgents that wanted to end our civilization came close from capturing Zamboanga.

When our valiant police and military recaptured the four barangays from the hands of the perpetrators, we pranced in jubilation. Having scuttled the marauders and accepting the surrender of hundreds of them, we are now moving to keep the peace but wondering how long the calm would last.

Zamboanga suffered economically as businesses dramatically fell after the siege. As the “war” and atrocities in the 70s, prominent families started to move to safer havens in the Visayas. Help started to pour in from donor organizations and countries to rebuild the four devastated barangays. The future of Zamboanga brightened once more.

But nonetheless, the scars of the siege remain. Displaced families suffer from substandard shelters built for them in relocation sites. A wooden bridge in Rio Hondo collapsed, sending politicians embarrassingly crushing to the murky sea water. A very angry Mayor Beng Climaco-Salazar protested during a House hearing the half-hearted treatment the city was getting from rehab agencies, particularly the National Housing Authority (NHA).

However, there are glimpses of a shimmering future with the planned construction of malls in a city with a growing population as the influx of migrants from nearby provinces increases each year.

The dismayed mayor didn’t stop there. She displayed grief over the dismissal of multiple rebellion charges against the Muslim insurgents. For the sake of peace, justice has been denied to those who perished in the siege and for laying back Zamboanga — once again!

This war in  Mindanao would have ended in 1976. Didn’t the government build a mansion inside the camp of the then Southern Command and called it the Gaddafi Mansion? But, no. The MNLF was not contented with the monetary assistance in the millions of pesos it was getting from the government. Another peace accord, dubbed as the final peace agreement, was signed in 1996 during the incumbency of Pres. Fidel V. Ramos. Remember us fighting vigorously against the establishment of the SPCPD? The late Mrs. Maria Clara Lorenzo-Lobregat and former priest, Crisanto dela Cruz, led that charge against the formation of that political entity.

The treaty, as we know it, didn’t hold, as the MNLF and its cells staged attacks after attacks on civilian communities, the last being the dawn assault on Zamboanga.

Hopefully, and we pray, that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that was passed on third and final reading, with substitute (amendments) provisions introduced by the irreproachable Congressman Celso L. Lobregat would finally end hostilities with the MILF. Hopefully, too, the substitute provisions are retained by the bicameral conference of Congress.

>    The BBL is not a guarantee, though, that the war in Mindanao, or the Mindanao Conflict among Filipinos, will come to an end, for several treaties and ceasefires between the government and the rebels have been broken. A year ago, a new enemy trying to establish a caliphate in Mindanao surfaced with ties with ISIS. Of course, the Maute Gang was badly outgunned by our police and military, but the battle to take back the Islamic City of Marawi was costly. Air strikes  and mortar bombardments practically leveled a beautiful and peaceful city. Retaking Marawi was probably the deadliest urban war since World War II that cost billions of pesos and countless of lives. After five months of battle, the Maute Gang was crushed, but not totally, as some of its fighters managed to escape to be reconstituted in another place.

Zamboanga is trying to protect her borders from terrorist intrusions. I hope the vigilance lasts.