ZAMBOANGA CITY –Authorities on Saturday cut off all mobile phone signals for hours in Zamboanga City – scene of deadly street battles between government and rebel forces – to prevent terrorists from using cell phones to detonate bombs.
Zamboanga is celebrating the feast of the Nuestra Señora del Pilar in honor of the Virgin Mary and a long procession was held on Saturday afternoon around downtown area that was occupied by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels last month.
Security was so tight during the procession that residents were not allowed to carry backpacks. Those who wanted to pray at the shrine of the Virgin Mary at Fort Pilar were searched.
Devotees of the Virgin Mary, many of them clutching rosaries and crucifixes, marched the streets as the procession, led by Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar snaked through the city.
Military helicopters hovering overhead dropped flowers and confetti over the long procession.
“Our devotion to Nuestra Señora La Virgen del Pilar all through the years has been our beacon of hope amidst the trials and adversities,” Salazar said.
She said that unlike in previous years, the Fiesta Hermosa celebration was a “toned-down affair” because of the MNLF siege that devastated Zamboanga and the widespread flooding brought be a recent typhoon.
“I urge our people to continue reverence to the La Virgen del Pilar to always lead us to Jesus. Our steadfast devotion to the Nuestra Señora La Virgen del Pilar all through the years has been our beacon of hope amidst the trials and adversities. No matter how intricate and complicated the challenges are – we, the good, will always prevail,” Salazar said.
Locals are largely superstitious and attribute all things – good or bad – to the Virgin Mary and other Catholic deities and even a recent typhoon that hit the city was attributed to the gods. Other pray for the rains to stop and when the sky cleared after five days of heavy rains that submerged a huge part of Zamboanga, all praises went to the Virgin Mary and of course, Jesus Christ.
Last month’s fighting killed and wounded over 400 people and resulted in a humanitarian crisis and many of the over 100,000 residents remain in temporary shelters and evacuation areas as security forces finish clearing at least six villages occupied by separatist rebels.
Fort Pilar, where the centuries-old statue of the Virgin Mary is displayed, was hit by several mortar bombs during the fighting.