Humanitarian crisis continues in southern Philippines

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By Noel T. Tarrazona

Boy cries upon learning his house was burned in the crossfire

A humanitarian crisis has been officially declared by the Philippine government in Zamboanga City, Mindanao, in the south of the country, after displaced civilians caught in the crossfire ballooned to 115,000, who are now housed in different 31 evacuation centers in the city. 

Around 300 rebels, part of a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), arrived by boat in the city early in the morning of September 9th, and had wanted to raise their flag above Zamboanga’s city hall, military officials said.

They then took siege of the city and held more than 170 hostages, most of whom have since been released. The Philippine soldiers and rebels, who are engaged in this standoff, have seen that the violent crossfire has already killed more than 70 rebels and 15 government troops in the ongoing battle.

A number of evacuees are crying day and night without food. Some do not have shelters and toilets and they keep hoping to end this crisis to go back to their normal lives. According to Inquirer News (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net), some 12,000 students from 38 public schools caught in the Zamboanga City crossfire will continue to miss regular classes at least for the next three months, said Philippine Education Secretary Armin Luistro, who flew to Zamboanga City on Friday with officials of the Department of Education (DepEd).

But 167 of the 205 public schools, including annexes, in the city may resume classes as early as Monday once the city’s interagency crisis committee deems it already safe, Luistro said. “Classes in Zamboanga City have been suspended since Sept. 9 when the military engaged armed MNLF members who occupied five densely populated coastal barangays using civilians as human shields,” added the story. Some 188,000 students are enrolled in 171 public elementary schools and 34 high schools in Zamboanga.

Rolly Pelinggon, director of the Philippine Student Alliance Lay Movement (PSALM) said that this is the best time that different ministries can reach out to the evacuees that include women, students and children because they are looking for a new hope and it’s only Jesus who can give them that new hope.

A number of Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) churches are helping in the distribution of relief goods to only 10,000 evacuees. Shortage of relief goods reportedly remain a challenge of the government. Zamboanga was a key city in introducing Evangelical doctrines. Zamboanga was among those first cities where US missionaries started the first Sunday Schools in different communities. It was also the City where the Ebenezer Bible College and Seminary was established. It was the first Christian and Missionary Bible school in the Philippines.

When C&MA missionaries arrived at Zamboanga City in the 1900s, they realized they needed a Bible school to train Filipinos in the way of the Lord. Ebenezer was built upon a foundation of two Christian day schools known as the Ebenezer Schools. The first school was for girls which was established by the Rev. and Mrs. David Lund in 1911 and the school for boys was established in 1920.

Then in 1926, the two schools were merged to form the Ebenezer Bible Institute with Rev. George Sthrom as its first principal. When the Second World War arrived in the Philippines, the school temporarily suspended its classes. Classes were resumed in 1946 by Rev. Herbert Jackson. For the first time in 1950, the Ebenezer Principal position went to a Filipino, the Rev. Vicente Pada.

The BBC says that Nur Misuari founded the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1971, with the goal of fighting the Philippine state for an independent Islamic nation. The MNLF then signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996.

However, Nur Misuari has complained that his faction has been marginalized in a peace agreement currently being negotiated between the government and another insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Last month, he declared an independent Muslim state in the southern Philippines.

“Nur Misuari has not commented on the violence. Journalists and government negotiators say they have been unable to reach him,” said the BBC report.

What MNLF forces hope to achieve in Zamboanga is not clear, reports the BBC’s South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head. The government says it is prepared to negotiate, and a likely outcome is that they are allowed to go out of the city, provided they leave the residents of the areas they are holding unharmed.

Nur Misuari’s forces used Zamboanga residents as human shields before in 2001 to secure safe passage after a failed uprising. Christians in the besieged city are now asking for prayer and also assistance to help them at this difficult time. –ASSIST News

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