ZAMBOANGA CITY: Several civilians were waving white flags and crying for a cease-fire in the middle of a road, many were screaming as shots rang followed by a random volley of automatic gunfire. Voices can be heard telling the group of civilians to stay put despite the firing and later telling them to hit the ground as the shooting intensified.
These were the scenes in a three-minute video taken during a street battle between government security forces and separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels who took more than more than 200 civilians and used them as human shields in Zamboanga City last month. The horrifying video was posted on the social networking site, Facebook.
While the hostages were pleading to security forces to stop shooting, a rebel was spotted hiding among them. Other rebels were hiding inside buildings as the video, reportedly taken using a cell phone camera, recorded the shootings outside.
The hostages were forced to hide behind a jeepney. Some of them crawled on the ground to avoid the bullets fired by government troops positioned at the end of the road. The captives continued to wave white flags and shout their pleas for a cease-fire, but the deafening sounds of gunfire drowned their voices.
The rebel who was hiding among the hostages ran towards a building where other MNLF fighters were hiding. Some of the civilians were shouting: “Cell phone, cell phone, please tawagan ninyo [call them], sir.” They were apparently appealing to the rebels to phone government troops to tell them that they were firing at civilian hostages.
A rebel subsequently ordered the hostages to stay on the ground. The rebels were talking among themselves in their local dialect, Tausug, and all appeared calm. One rebel fired his bazooka at government troops, where the shots were emanating.
It is unknown if any of the civilians were killed during the cited firefight, but the whole three minute-video showed that the safety and lives of the civilians were endangered by the indiscriminate firing of government troops.
The fighting in Zamboanga killed and wounded over 400 people, among them hostages and innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. More than 100,000 people fled the fighting and sought refuge in temporary shelters as the conflict ravaged their villages to ashes.
Hundreds of rebels from the provinces of Basilan and Sulu and Zamboanga Peninsula led by Ustadz Khabir Malik stormed Zamboanga City after their leader, Nur Misuari, who signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996, accused President Benigno Aquino of reneging on the cited accord.