The death toll in the Zamboanga crisis, which entered its sixth day, climbed to 52 on Saturday amid renewed fighting between government security forces and the rogue Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) elements.
This, as Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said there is no ceasefire being implemented in the city, although he assured they are taking all steps to prevent a bloody confrontation.
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, chief of the Armed Forces public affairs office, also said they have not yet received any directive for a ceasefire.
Zagala also said the rogue MNLF elements are believed to be still holding around 50-100 civilian hostages.
The number of displaced residents, on the other hand, rose to more than 60,000.
As of Saturday morning, gunfire and explosions were again heard in Zamboanga City.
According to Gazmin, firing continues as the ceasefire has never been implemented, and that it will not take effect as long as the rogue Moro rebels will not stop firing at government forces securing the city.
The secretary also said Vice President Jejomar Binay had called him up Friday night and said he can “reach out” to Misuari. Gazmin added the Vice President then asked him if he would have no objections to a ceasefire.
“I told Binay all of us want peace. He said he can talk to Misuari. I said government troops will stop firing only if the MNLF stops firing,” said the defense chief.
Number of casualties on the rise
Based on data released by the AFP, the number of casualties from the on-going Zamboanga crisis is now 123, with 53 dead mostly MNLF fighters, and 70 wounded.
Among the 53 fatalities, the AFP said three were soldiers, three policemen, four civilians, and 43 MNLF.
On the other hand, 35 soldiers, six policemen, 20 civilians, and nine rogue MNLF elements have so far been wounded in the on-going skirmishes that started before dawn on Monday.
19 MNLF fighters have either been captured or surrendered.
The AFP reported that at around 1:04 a.m. Saturday, another encounter took place in Barangay Kasanyangan resulted in the death one Marine element and four MNLF elements. Five soldiers were also wounded, while government security forces recovered one M60 machine gun and one armalite rifle.
At around 3:30 a.m., firefight was also reported at KGK Building.
Zagala said the government forces suffered casualties due to the ongoing operations. He, nonetheless, assured “we will press the fight to protect civilians.”
He also reiterated their appeal to civilians to “stay out of the danger zone.”
More than 60,000 people displaced by the crisis
A report by the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC), citing data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), showed the number of displaced people in Zamboanga City is now 62,329.
It said the dramatic rise in number of displaced persons was due to the forced evacuation that was implemented Friday.
The affected residents as currently sheltered in 20 evacuation centers in the city.