First person account of the horrible Zambo siege PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 06 October 2013 13:55

It has been 29 days now since the horrible crisis erupted affecting at least six barangays within the city proper.

More than 10,00 houses mixed of concrete and light materials were burned and lives of innocent civilians, military men and rebels lost due to senseless war that lasted for more than 20 days.

While many houses were razed to the ground, the unburned ones were not spared from looters.

The Commission on Human Rights is expected to come in to investigate the alleged looting. A first case of alleged looting has already reached AFP higher headquarters involving men in uniform.

At dawn of September 9, 2013 (Monday), everyone in the affected areas like Barangays Mariki, Rio Hondo, Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina were awakened by sporadic firings.

RMN-Zamboanga technician Orly Bacasong woke me up through a phone call asking me to file a report about the presence of MNLF rebels in our area.

I went out and checked the area in Lustre St. where I personally saw the presence of armed men who I later realized werre members of the Misuari-breakaway group roaming around. I interviewed one of them over RMN-Zamboanga and he confirmed the presence of their leader,Ustadz Habier Malik.

As kagawad of Sta. Catalina, I immediately advised my constituents to evacuate their children to a safer ground after I heard series of loud explosions somewhere within the vicinity of Zamboanga City Medical Center. While I was going house to house advising people what to do, Kagawad Nasser Ibrahim of Kasanyangan informed me of the ongoing hostage taking somewhere at Binarao Drive, Sta. Catalina.

I realized then that MNLF rebels were all over the area throwing the neighborhood in panic and prompting many to leave their houses with  their valuables.

Together with Kagawad Ibrahim, I proceeded to Binarao Drive where I saw several armed men holding 37 hostages. A certain Commander Hussin Hassimin and Ustadz Ismael claimed to be the leaders of the more than 50 rebels armed with high powered firearm.

Commander Hassimin said his group came from the MNLF National Security Command based in Basilan. He further revealed that they came to Zamboanga only to march to City Hall where they would hoist the Bangsamoro flag.

Hassimin allowed me to speak to the hostages and I found out that three of them are my neighbors (Inday Martinez and the Cepada couple Jun and Aning), while the rest are residents of Talon-Talon, Mampang, and Tugbungan. They were seized early morning while they were on their way to the city proper. I also told Commander Hassimin that I am doing dual function — as a barangay kagawad and as a media man.

From 37 hostages, it reduced to 35 after two of them, Inday Martinez and a woman from Talon-Talon collapsed due to hypertension. I asked Commander Hassimin for me and Kagawad Ibrahim to take Inday Martinez to the nearest hospital. We instead took Inday directly to our residence at Martha Drive because the road leading to ZCMC was full of armed men.

Later, my colleague Kagawad Boy Arabi assisted us in attending to the hostages by providing them food and medicines.    Through phone negotiation with Col. Aseron, who was the military in charge at that time in Sta. Catalina, and Ustadz Ismael, a 10-year old boy Daniel Ramirez was released before 6 p.m on that very day. It was me and Kagawad Arabi who received the freed hostage and brought him to Col. Aseron who was holding temporary office at the Sta. Catalina Barangay Hall.

The group of Ustadz Ismael and Commander Hassimin moved out of Sta. Catalina bringing along with them the 34 remaining hostages. I’m not privy then as to what was agreed between the parties involved.

I went home around 7 p.m. only to find out that my family was no longer in our house except for my brother Toto, my bed-ridden 89 year old father and three nephews — Mario Limbaga, Roldan Bato and Jimboy Limbaga. They evacuated and stayed temporarily at Tres Alas Company located at Martha Drive. I decided to stay home overnight in our house with my brother and nephews. The next day, my cousin Boboy Aragones forced us to vacate the place for he is sensing series danger should we continue to stay in Martha Drive. I intentionally went out early to assist my constituents as I hate to see my family leaving our beautiful place which at that time was already infested with rebels. As a Barangay Kagawad, I decided to stay in Sta. catalina for the next few days until the situation turned to worse. More than 100 individuals at Lustre were also held hostage by the group of Ustadz Malik… The rest is history. ( Editor’s Note: Jimmy Villaflores is senior correspondent of Daily  Zamboanga Times, Tatak RMN reporter and anchorman and three-term Kagawad of Sta. Catalina. He was one of the first mediamen to be the conflict areas when the standoff started on Sept. 9)