ALARMED by the on-going armed confrontation and unfolding humanitarian crisis in the rebel-besieged Zamboanga City, the teachers’ group Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) on Friday asked the government and the Moro forces to end the violence in the southern part of the Philippines as thousands of families flee their homes.
“Innocent civilians, especially helpless children suffer most in every armed conflict,” said Benjo Basas, the group’s national chairman, adding that more civilians have been scampering for their lives.
TDC reacted on the escalating conflict in Zamboanga City which is now on its fifth day since a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members attempted to seize the city last Monday allegedly in accordance with Nur Misuari’s declaration of Bangsamoro independence few weeks ago. Authorities confirmed that the fighting has now spilled over to Lamitan City in nearby island province of Basilan.
“Classes are suspended in affected areas and schools often suffer heavy casualties after the fighting. In a conduct of war, schools and children should be spared and civilians should not be used as human shields,” Basas said.
The TDC head said that aside from Zamboanga and Basilan, schools are also affected in Central Mindanao especially in the provinces of Cotabato and Maguindanao where fighting between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) against the Armed Forces of the Philippines and their former comrades in the MILF erupted because of some leaders’ opposition to peace talks with the government.
The group said there were also reports of air strike and strafing in New People’s Army (NPA) camp in Sagada, Mountain Province late last month were the military forces are allegedly stationed in a school.
“Sagada is declared as peace zone, thus, government forces and the rebels should refrain from entering Sagada and engaged in fighting in the area,” Basas said.
“We call on all parties to resolve this issue through a peaceful and sincere dialogue. The MNLF should give peace agreement a chance,” he said. “A military solution may not be the best option at this time.”
“We ask the government and the rebels to give priority to peace negotiation as an option and not armed confrontation. The people in the countryside and the nation suffered much from this four decade-old conflict. We want lasting peace,” Basas added. NEIL A. ALCOBER