Old Post : The Zamboanga Crisis

Today is the 9th of October and I’ve been seated in front of my personal computer for a couple of minutes already. Staring blankly for the first few minutes, I encourage myself to start typing this reflection paper because I so desperately want to pass my Special Problems in Nursing class and because I just suffered through 33 hours of blackout since yesterday. I tell myself I better start typing before Zamcelco decides to switch the power off again. I hear my grandparents talking to my boyfriend outside my room and I feel a sense of reassurance he is with us & that taking a couple of minutes to type out this paper will not lead to me running around grabbing things to evacuate if necessary.
As I sit, type & remember everything that has happened, I can’t help but still feel a sense of loss, dread & sadness all at the same time. Looking out of my window, the sky is dark & it’s raining heavily. I take a look at the street and silently offer a prayer that the water levels won’t continue rising because I can’t afford any more emotional suffering. I already went through more thank 3 weeks of the “war”, now I have to deal with mother nature too? The war was bad enough…
I guess to start talking about the war, one must have a certain “prelude” about it. Most people don’t know how Zamboanga, both local & national government, Nur Misuari & the MNLF all come together in this Zamboanga siege.
Nur Misuari, the leader of the rebel group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed a peace treaty back in 1996 that allowed the creation of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) & he then became its first governor. Fast forward to more recent events, I’ve read from different sources that Misuari proclaimed the independence of the Bangsamore Republik on August 12, 2013, a proclamation largely ignored by the government. He then “disappeared” from public view before the Zamboanga siege took place. Accordingly, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) received intelligence reports that the MNLF would launch a mass “operations” in Zamboanga City a couple of days prior to the actual undertaking. A certain commander Ustadz Habier Malik would lead the siege.
I didn’t know any of this till it actually happened. You see, my September started out quite happily. I had attended several parties & baptisms over the weekend prior to that fateful Monday morning where my life, and the lives of thousands of Zamboanguenos would change forever…
I will never forget the date, because it is exactly a month ago from today. The night before “Day 1”, I had a really good time with my family at home, just chilling and doing our thing. Little did I know that in a few hours past midnight, the terrors of the Zamboanga crisis would begin.
September 9, 2013, a little over 4 in the morning, a group of MNLF rebels invaded the city & killed several people. They started spreading havoc over the first couple of barangays they landed in. I on the other hand was still fast asleep in my warm bed, oblivious to it all till a few hours later when my grandmother (lola) barged into my room hastily waking me up. In my disoriented state, all I understood at that point was her saying “Wake up! Zamboanga is under attack by the moros!”. Everything was a bit fuzzy at that time and I remember thinking, “Again with the racism?!” I decided to check my phone first. More than 30 of missed calls from different people and several text messages. I began to feel this sense of dread. I don’t usually get that many calls or texts through the night…
The first person I called back was my boyfriend. After several rings, he finally picked up and the first thing he told me was “Don’t allow lola to go to work today, lock the gates and stay inside. The MNLF are in Zamboanga, they are planning to take down city hall. They have hostages!”… That’s when it finally sunk in. This was really happening… I immediately went online and see that it’s all over my Facebook newsfeed, Twitter timeline & on Ustream RMN. For the first time in my life, I listened to RMN, a local radio station to be updated. By noon all hell had broken loose!
The first 2 weeks of the war were the toughest. Being the only able bodied person in the house; I worried over all the decision-making and the availability of food stocks at home. At first I thought that this would be an extreme version of the Cabatangan siege that took place a few years ago. At this point I knew from the news that they (MNLF) wanted to take over city hall and hoist their official flag, the Bangsamoro Republik flag.
I thought that by the third day, the AFP would have it under control. I was wrong. I was very wrong indeed. The next couple of days would be full of sleepless nights, RMN radio streaming online, and waking up every to the sounds of bombings, fading gunshots and helicopters flying overhead. I’m lucky enough to have a boyfriend who willingly brought over food supplies so that I wouldn’t have to risk going out of the house. Also lucky that during the entire time, we suffered from zero blackouts or internet fluctuations.
The day the first fire broke out, my heart broke. I had relatives in the affected areas. I had friends in the affected areas. I’m glad all of them were able to evacuate since day 1 or 2 but I thought of their beloved homes and belongings. I also thought of all the other people who were now stranded as evacuees in the different evacuation centers. I know of several people who were forced to leave the comforts of their home and instead take cover at the evacuation centers where supplies were low and the spread of disease was rapidly happening due to the sheer mass of people occupying these spaces.
My heart went out to the hostages, who were still being controlled by the rebel group and were caught in the crossfire between the MNLF & AFP. My heart ached over all the photos on my Facebook account of the suffering the Zamboanguenos were going through and over the news that some of our soldiers have been killed. I felt so bad that a lot of our soldiers, men who were risking their lives to save ours, were going to the battlefields on empty stomachs because food rations were getting low. My heart just ached so much.
Even during the first few days of the war, the call for volunteers was already felt. I was so tempted to go out to volunteer, especially as a nurse because they needed nurses. My lola & lolo had to padlock the gate to keep me from going out to volunteer. It was too risky, they said. So I sat in the sidelines, hoping & praying that the war ends soon.
Those days were the longest and most horrible days of my life! I have experienced fear - all kinds of it.  School days when I fear for those graded recitations and exams when I’m not prepared for them! A childish fear of the school dentist when she comes to visit and declares that she has to pull one of my teeth!  Yet this indescribable fear that I felt all boiled down to fear of the unknown. It was scary to not know what was exactly going on. It was scary to receive so many different bits of information from all over Zamboanga about what was happening and about what was going to happen.
By the the 16th of September, the AFP started to really bombard and pound MNLF strongholds with mortars and the air strikes served as backup reinforcement. By this time, the number of rebels were dwindling and slowly the hostages started to get released but the war was far from over. It had only just begun.
Some friends and family asked why we did not evacuate. Some asked why I chose to stay in Zamboanga when I could have joined my parents & sister in Singapore since the airport had already resumed flight schedules…  Leaving the house was out of the question.  I have heard of plenty of vacated residences ransacked and looted.  Prizes of war, they say.  But I didn’t want to lose those priceless momentos of the past.  Then there were so many evacuees in the centers, by the hundred thousands, that the authorities had a hard time keeping things in order. And lastly, who would stay to take care of my 77 year old lolo who had suffered 3 strokes in the past and was still a hypertensive who took over 10 different medications a day? Who would take care of my 74 year old insulin dependent hypertensive lola who was already a nervous wreck by the 7th day of the war? Leaving was out of the question. I was scared, so scared actually, but I just had to suck it up. I had to be my grandparents stronghold…  So the three of us, me, my lolo & my lola chose to wait it out.
The war lasted till the end of the month when it was declared that it was over and the enemies subdued.  All that was left was the clearing operations, which will take some time to make sure that it was safe for the residents to return to their homes and try to live again. But is it really over? There are still bits of “chismis” going around that a second phase will be happening soon… All we could is hope and trust and pray that it does not…           

1 comment

  1. I hope that there's no second phase anymore! >.< I saw how tragic it was.


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