MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines has deployed thousands of its troops in Zamboanga City where there is an ongoing standoff with members of the Moro National Liberation Front, but said they were standing down for possible negotiations.
“We will not advance into the areas where they are. We are situated in an area where we can cordon them off. They cannot advance and that is our action so far,” Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, military spokesperson, told reporters in a press briefing Tuesday.
President Benigno Aquino III also said in a separate press briefing in Makati City that the government has an “overwhelming” number of troops to deal with the crisis and did not see the need to declare a state of emergency.
Meanwhile, Zagala also did not discount the possibility that the skirmishes between the government troops and the MNLF rebels were because they tried to break off from the cordon set by the government forces.
“These skirmishes are isolated. A lot of these is to contain (the Misuari group) in that area. They cannot get out because the primary mission is to contain them and we have done that so far,” Zagala said.
Police were able to block MNLF members in Mampang village who were supposed to reinforce their comrades in Sta. Catalina village.
For its part, the Philippine Navy sent seven ships to prevent MNLF from reinforcing its troops already occupying five coastal villages in Zamboanga City, Navy spokesman Commander Gregory Fabic told reporters in an ambush interview.
Three hundred Marine forces and four teams of the elite Naval Special Operations Group, or the Navy Seals will be airlifted to Zamboanga City.
As of latest, there were 168 reported taken hostage by the MNLF in the villages of Talon-Talon, Kasanyangan, Sta. Catalina and Sta. Barbara. On Monday, the military reported as much as 300 hostages in three coastal villages of Zamboanga City.
On Tuesday morning, six hostages were freed by the MNLF.
Official reports of casualties were four killed and 21 injured, Zagala said.
He said they are relying on civilian authorities “because it is the best interest not only of the AFP but of the local government unit that there will be a peaceful resolution…so we are paving way to them and we rely on them to do such.”
“We want to assure everyone that we are doing whatever we can to ensure that there will be a peaceful solution to the crisis,” he said.