MANILA, Philippines – The military has been dropping flyers to the group of rebels still holed up in seaside villages in Zamboanga City, urging them to surrender, Malacañang said Sunday.
The flyers were dropped in villages for the group of Ustadz Habier Malik who continued to hold out days after President Aquino issued an ultimatum for their surrender.
The siege reached its 14th day Sunday without any sign that Malik’s group, who was still holding more than a dozen hostages, was laying down their arms. The President remained in the war zone.
“The leaflets are being dropped in areas where the elements of the Misuari faction are holed up. In the flyers, they are being urged to surrender, and put a stop to the hostilities. So far, some are responding. We’re hopeful that everyone will respond,’’ deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over government-run dzRB.
Aquino, who flew to Zamboanga City on Sept. 13, to monitor the offensive against the rebels, has called on the fighters to surrender, but otherwise said the government was ready to quell violence.
Valte could not say if the government troops were mounting their final offensive against the remnants of the hundreds of rebels that attacked the southern city exactly two weeks ago. She said this was a matter better answered by the military.
“The military won’t stop in their operation to push forward to fully protect our countrymen there,’’ she said. “Their clearing operation is ongoing. The military and the PNP are going from house to house, block to block.’’
She said Aquino, who vowed to see through the end of the crisis, had to stay longer because he was still needed by the people there.
The Moro rebels landed by boat in the city on Sept. 9, and threatened to march to the city hall and declare independence, but were repulsed by soldiers. They retreated to the seaside villages and seized 200 civilians, some of whom had escaped or been freed.
After days of fighting, government troops have boxed in the rebels, who initially numbered by the hundreds and have gone down to 30 to 40.
Valte said it was the call of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima whether to also file charges against Nur Misuari, who was believed to have instigated the Sept. 9 attack on the southern city.
“Let’s just wait for that. Perhaps the announcement will also be coming from the DoJ. The President did task the Secretary of Justice to look into the possible cases that can be filed in connection with the Zamboanga situation,’’ she said.
Meantime, the government has to grapple with a “humanitarian crisis” since the fighting has forced more than 100,000 residents to flee their homes in the city.
Valte, however, said the large number of 118,000 displaced individuals had been reduced to more than 111,000.
“Considering that five [villages[ are affected, the number of individuals affected by this event in Zamboanga is really high,’’ she said. “We really need a lot of assistance for our countrymen there, not only by way of relief, by way of rehabilitation, by way of reconstruction, and of course, let’s not forget the psychological assistance,’’ she said.
Even Education Secretary Armin Luistro has flown to the city to mobilize teachers in helping students in their “emotional recovery,’’ Valte said.
Aquino has estimated the cost of resettling, feeding, providing assistance for education and finding jobs for the displaced civilians at P3.89 billion.