Monday, September 23, 2013

El Cuento de Un Ciudad (The Tale of One City)

The feeling of disbelief and devastation has never left me since that morning of September 9 when a cousin phoned mom to ask her to pray over reports of attack by the MNLF in Zamboanga. Mom was clearly worried and I reassured her that it will be over in no time and it is only an isolated scuffle pertuated by Misuari loyalists. 

Acaba lang se dayun Mom. Tiene lang gaha se demands el maga MNLF por causa serca ya el signing del Bangsamaro framework. Mira tu, hinde caba este dia sale ya sus maga hente (It will soon be over Mom. The MNLF may just have demands since the Bangsamoro framework signing is near. You’ll see, before the day ends, they will retreat).” 

But the day progressed with TV reports of terror and violence engulfing the six coastal areas of Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara, Rio Hondo, Talon-Talon, Mampang, Arena Blanco and Kasanyangan.

Aerial shot of the coastal areas engulfed in fire (Source)
I was wrong with my belief that it was going to be temporary - now the armed conflict in Zamboanga enters its 15th day.

Every time I watch the news, my anxiety level grows in astronomic increments and I find it hard to breathe. As images of Zamboanga erupting in sporadic flames, people running for their lives, soldiers and tanks passing the streets and gunfire heard on the background dominate the screen, pain creeps into my heart. It hits home – this city is where I trace my roots.

The picture of Zamboanga the past two weeks is NOT what welcomed me and my relatives last April when we had our clan reunion. We spent four days in high spirits surrounded by relatives to the nth degree, revisiting places that are important to my family’s history, sharing a hodgepodge of stories and giving the younger generations a crash course in speaking Chavacano. Zamboanga to me is synonymous to things money cannot buy - family, friends, memories and security. Este el Zamboanga yo ta accorda (this is the Zamboanga I remember).

Me gazing at Basilan Straight. April 2013,  La Vista del Mar, Zamboanga City. 

I was born in Zamboanga Hermosa but was raised in Davao City. My parents,  mom especially, encouraged me to maintain a relationship with the city of my birth y su vivientos (and her people) – spending a few summer vacations  there, knowing most of my relatives, speaking Chavacano at home and her stories of how life was for them when they were growing up in a house above a store that sold dried fish in Magay, near the tiangge (market).

Zamboanga was home to me until I was five years old. I still have hazy recollections of playing with my Tausug childhood friend Awud, of going to the pueblo (downtown) on weekends with mom and my brother to eat at what today is the equivalent of Jollibee – Food Paradise to dig on their bright red spaghetti then to Tai Chiong which was the place where all Zamboangeno kids buy their toys from before there were malls. On my last year in high school, dad took me with him back to Zamboanga where he opened a branch of a bank he used to work for. At fifteen, I added new memories of the city in my memory chest – the old buildings and century-old acacia trees of WMSU where I studied and eating saging rebusao or sati after school in the hole-in-the-wall eateries, much to the dismay of my grandmother. Or sitting by Cawa-Cawa in the afternoon to watch the colourful vintas set sail against the setting sun. The once poignant and beautiful memories I have turned into this aberration. Bien triste (so sad).

As of Thursday, it was reported that more than 118,000 residents have been displaced by the hostilities and around 11,000 houses burned to the ground. Zamboangenos are now camping in makeshift tents at the Baliwasan Grandstand. Innocent civilians – the elderly, men, women and children - forcibly taken by the MNLF fighters to be used as human shields. 125 lives were lost – 12 of which are non-combatants, meaning they are collateral damage of the hostilities. It was so disturbing to hear of a two-year old boy killed after a bullet hit him while he and his mother were attempting escape from their captors. A five-year old child raped by a relative in one of the evacuation areas. Despite the call of various government and non-government agencies to spare the lives and property of civilians under the precepts of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), the destruction and loss of lives continue to rise. The lines clearly have been blurred, bullets and mortars do not know who to hit. The trauma caused by the armed conflict between the government and MNLF forces is so palpable in the faces of those homeless, hungry and lost their loved ones. My people have been subjected to atrocities that left them scared, scarred and broken like the shards of glass along the pavements.

Some 200 houses in Sta. Catalina were burned to ashes caused by the continuous fighting in the area (Source)

Evacuees from affected areas seek protection at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex (Source)
I do not want to dwell anymore on the antiquated issue of Christian versus Muslims since for the longest time we have seen it being addressed on the negotiating table albeit the pockets of skirmishes in some areas in ARMM. In the first place this is not a religious war. The rift between MILF and MNLF and underlying reasons that I leave to the political pundits to dissect. Even the report that PNoy underestimated Misuari thus this brazen game of violence and power play is a topic I am not keen on sinking my teeth on. But I join my fellow Zamboangenos who are clamoring for a stop to this carnage that marred the city and subjected thousands of innocent people to a life of uncertainty, fear and oblivion. Those who had nothing or very little to gain out of this were the ones who lost everything.

My heart bleeds over my incapacity to help. I hear my city calling me and believe me when I say I am trying to find ways to respond.

I know that my words are not enough and this rather lengthy post may be a futile effort of a blogger who wants to send this message across. But time and time again, in the pages of history, it has been proven that violence is never the answer. On the contrary it only weakens the idealism for which men are willing to lose their lives for. It only leaves the door ajar to reprisal.

Zamboanga is a city proud and rich and her people resilient. In the midst of this protracted conflict that rocked them to the core, are the people’s indomitable spirits who refuse to give up. Yes, they are weeping in pain, outrage and desolation but my people continue to prove day in and day out that their unity will kill the seeds of terror sown in their soil. Enough is enough! I am comforted though by the fact that once dust settles and all these madness comes to a halt, Zamboangenos will stand again and rebuild their lives. Like what they have done in the past. Like how they always will.

Levanta otravez Zamboanga, rise again Zamboanga!

"There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands." - Plato

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