By JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
Davao Today

(contributed photo from Fit for School)

(contributed photo from Fit for School)

Zamboanga City – Evacuees who were gathered at the city’s Joaquin F. Enriquez Sports Complex following gunfighting between government troops and the Moro National Liberation Front heckled President Benigno Aquino III on his second trip here Saturday.

Some evacuees shouted at Aquino “Noynoy, Noynoy, bahay namin sunog na! (Noynoy, Noynoy, our house burned down!)” and “Noynoy, Pajero mo amin na lang! (Noynoy, give us your [Mitsubishi] Pajero now!)”

Aquino shook hands with evacuees and promised to help the residents whose houses were burned down in the coastal Barangays of Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina. It was not clear whether it was the 200 MLF members who burned the houses after they hid in these villages since Monday dawn.

The President also asked residents to understand the delay in food preparation and asked for their cooperation as evacuees in the complex alone reach 44000.

The Zamboanga City Information office announced yesterday that the Crisis Management Center has recorded 6,024 families with 23,584 dependents in 26 evacuation centers. Most of these centers are in schools and covered courts.

Aquino appealed yesterday to the residents of Zamboanga for patience.

“So humihingi ako ng paumanhin sa mga kababayan natin sa Zamboanga City, hindi natin ito puwedeng idaan, di ba? Naiinip na, nawalan ng pasensya, nag-init ang ulo. Kailangan huminahon para nga ma-achieve natin yun para nga hindi dumami yung mawalan ng buhay o masugatan dito sa kasalukuyang kaganapang ito. (I apologize to the people of Zamboanga. We’re getting impatient, hot-headed. We need to calm down so we can achieve it so there won’t be more loss of houses or casualties in this conflict),” the President said.

Sta. Barbara residents, who are mostly Moro people, want the president to end their hostilities.

Mae Pajeran, one of the Sta. Barbara residents, said the decision of the president alone would solve their problems.

“Tapusin na. Yan ang dapat gawin (Let this stop. That’s what needs to be done),” she said fearing that her house was among those that burned down due to the fighting.

“Kung nasunog na yung bahay namin, sana tulungan niya kami maitayo (If our house burned down, I hope he could helped us rebuilt it),” Pajeran said.

On Friday, when asked if the government has opened negotiations with MNLF Chair Nur Misuari to stop the conflict, Aquino told the media they are trying to find ways to reach out to him.

“Tandaan na lang natin na nag-umpisa ito, ayaw tayong kausapin. Tapos nagharap ng paraang para tayo makausap. Sabihin na lang natin na it’s a revolving story (Remember at the start of this, they don’t want to talk to us. We tried to find a way so that we can talk. Let’s just say that it’s a revolving story),” the President said.

Meanwhile, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, who is part of the crisis committee with Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco, denied reports of a ceasefire between government troops and the MNLF.

When asked by media, Roxas replied : “Wala akong alam. Kayo nandito, kayo makapagsasabi. May mga trabaho inatas ang presidente, yun ang inaasikaso ko. (I don’t know any of that. You guys are here, you can tell. I have a job to do as ordered by the President.)”

Roxas asked business establishments to open their stores as part of the plan to return to normalcy.

“Mercury drug, Farmacia Esther opened. The banks (ran out of cash) but the Bangko Sentral) is in the conflict area, so they setup an alternate cash facility,” Roxas said.

Many stores opened today except in the areas were gunfighting is ongoing. A curfew is still imposed from 8pm to 5am.

Defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin reportedly denied news of a ceasefire as fighting between both troops continued. He also appealed to civilians not to enter danger zones.

Aquino told reporters yesterday that the government’s role was to conduct a military operation since day one of the crisis, but said the primary objective was “to ensure there is no unnecessary loss of blood.”

The President said military reports had the MNLF “contained” in four barangays.

AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan reported on Friday that 18 persons were killed – including three from the police, two from the military, and 11 from the MNLF. Some 52 were injured including 18 civilians and 20 from the MNLF who “surrendered or were captured.” (John Rizle L. Saligumba/ davaotoday.com)

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