Residents of Zamboanga City are running low on food as business establishments and stores remain closed for the second day on Tuesday.
Monsignor Chris Manongas, administrator of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga, said that hundreds of families are either in evacuation centers or trapped inside their homes.
With the city virtually on a standstill, the people are getting hungry, Manongas said. He said groceries, neighborhood stores and banks are closed.
“You cannot buy anything, there are no public vehicles running around. Everybody is afraid, it’s very dangerous,” he said.
Manlongat said that his group is attempting to help more than a thousand people trapped in an evacuation center.
Father Wilfredo Samson, SJ, officer-in-charge of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University said that the school is accepting food donations for an estimated 1, 447 evacuees.
Manlongat said that one priest was taken hostage by the Muslim rebels while another is an evacuation center.
A neighbor of Father Michael Ufana said Moro National Liberation Front rebels barged into the house of the priest in Santa Catalina village and took him, his sister and father hostage. Their fate remains unknown.
Manlongat said that the Vicar-General of the Archdiocese who is with hundreds of displaced families at a church is also appealing for food and water.
“I am having difficulties in penetrating the place because it’s cordoned. We are not allowed to go inside and it is also very dangerous because the fighting is beside the church and they (evacuees) cannot get out anymore. I was able to speak to the parish priest there, and they were asking for help especially for food and water,” Manongas said.
Currently, the MNLF are in barangay Mariki, Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina and Rio Hondo.
Manongas said that the MNLF yesterday freed five civilians—four women and a child.
“We still have a very tense situation. We are still monitoring the situation and at the same time we are trying to help the evacuees. We have thousands of evacuees already, may mga evacuee sa school at sa grandstand. Our social action staff will go there again to help the people,” he said.
Heavily-armed rebels took positions in civilian neighborhoods throughout the night and making it extremely difficult for security forces to launch an assault to free the hostages.
Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar previously said more than 200 civilians have been taken captive by rebel forces, but police said only 85 people are actually being held hostage.
Salazar suspended all classes and work on Tuesday as the crisis entered its second day. A 9-hour curfew in Zamboanga also remains enforced. Thousands of villagers have fled their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire or taken captive by rebels.
She said troops have put up blockades in Talon-Talon village after a group of rebels and their hostages in the village of Mampang were trying to link up with a larger group of MNLF fighters in Santa Catalina.
“Per report from the police, at 3 a.m. today, some 30 armed MNLF tagging along civilians as human shields from Mampang were monitored proceeding to Santa Catalina to support their comrades. However, they were blocked by police and soldiers manning checkpoints in the area,” Salazar said, adding “authorities are undertaking steps to resolve the crisis.”
She again appealed to civilians to stay inside their homes.