MANILA, Philippines – Government forces have “tightened the cord’ on elements of the Moro National Liberation Front who have been fighting with them in Zamboanga City by containing their movements to conflict-affected areas, Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II told Radyo Inquirer 990AM Tuesday.
Roxas said the MNLF fighters were now in a “very defined area” in five or six villages, surrounded by the military. He said they were “tightening the cord” around them.
Roxas also said they also have a seaboard perimeter against those attempting to flee by sea through the coastal villages of Mariki and Talon-Talon.
He said the Navy, Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police’s maritime unit were in place around the maritime perimeter.
“Now we are at the calibrated response [phase] until clearing. So [government forces] are clearing building by building, house by house, room by room until [the MNLF] are pushed or their area of operation becomes smaller,” he said.
Roxas said government efforts and the containment of the MNLF led to the rescue of around 150 hostages.
Roxas said they were open to anyone willing to negotiate a ceasefire but said the MNLF gunmen would not be let off the hook since they have not only taken hundreds of residents hostage but also burned down thousands of houses.
Aquino still in Zamboanga
Roxas assured the public they were working hard to resolve the conflict that first started on September 9, with Mayor Maria Isabelle “Beng” Climaco-Salazar heading the crisis management committee and President Benigno Aquino III, as commander in chief, overseeing the security aspect.
“The President is here. In fact last night until midnight he was in a meeting. He is meeting with local government officials and local leaders, meeting with his commanders,” the Interior Secretary said.
Roxas said Aquino has also approved the sending of additional troops from Tarlac and Pampanga, including a special team from Clark.