ZAMBOANGA CITY: The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Zamboanga City government on Monday honored dozens of soldiers and policemen who died fighting rebels who attacked this southern port city last year.
The attack by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels sparked three weeks of house-to- house and street battles that displaced more than 120,000 people.
Defense Chief Voltaire Gazmin, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., Western Mindanao Command Chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas 2nd joined Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar in the ceremony that honored 20 soldiers, five policemen and 13 civilians who perished in the fighting. Over 400 people were killed and wounded in the battle.
A wreath-laying ceremony was also held at the Veterans Memorial Park just across the Rizal Park in front of the City Hall where the mayor unveiled a marker that read “In remembrance of the 38 fallen heroes of the Zamboanga siege, September 2013, who laid their precious lives to the cause of upholding one flag, one nation, one Zamboanga. Your memories and sacrifices will forever be etched in the heart of every Zamboangueño”.
Soldiers presented to Climaco the Philippine flag “that was never lowered during the Zamboanga siege. Battle-scarred yet resplendent, it continued to unfurl until victory was declared on September 28, 2013.”
The siege broke out on September 9, 2013 after hundreds of MNLF members loyal to MNLF founding-chair Nur Misuari infiltrated this city.
Climaco led other military, police and government officials in visiting the sites of the deadly battles in the villages of Mariki, Rio Hondo, Santa Barbara, and inspected ongoing housing projects for those displaced by the fighting. Catapang and Guererro later spoke to soldiers at the Western Mindanao Command, and attended a peace and order council meeting at the City Hall, where a photo exhibit of the siege was also held.
“The victory of Zamboanga will always remind us of the heroism and sacrifices of our soldiers. They risked their lives to defend the city and save innocent civilians from lawless elements selfishly trying to grab power. Rest assured the AFP will continue to guard against those who attempt to destroy or harm our way of life. Be it Zamboanga or anywhere else,” Catapang said.
For his part, Roxas praised the vigilance of the local people and their commitment to peace.
“We are here to remember, to reflect, and to recommit on what Zamboanga is for all of us— Zamboanga Hermosa. The siege brought out the best of the Zamboangueños,” he said.
Roxas said the Zamboangueños learned a lesson from the siege, which is to stand “united behind one flag, one nation and one Zamboanga”.