Cabatangan: Towards a New Perspective

Eighteen years ago may sound “long ago” to many, but the impact of what transpired in 2001, stirred in 2013, may be healed as 2019 would usher a new perspective on Cabatangan, the barangay where an infamous white edifice used to be an imposing sight overlooking Zamboanga.

It was on November 27, 2001 when the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) surreptitiously disturbed the peace in four barangays: Cabatangan, San Roque, Santa Maria, and Pasonanca. A hundred and twenty-five hostages were wakened up, dragged from their homes under pointed guns on an early morning.

They walked hungry, tired, few others barefoot, in sleepwear, till they were set free after days. The MNLF were then tagged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines as “breakaway forces” led by MNLF founder Nur Misuari’s nephew, Hji. Julambrie Misuari.

After negotiations, the MNLF was scot free and even escorted by the military to Panubigan. Maria Isabelle Climaco was a neophyte councilor then.

The MNLF was not yet content. And Zamboanga once again was caught off guard. Shortly after Climaco took her oath as city mayor on June 30 and 70 days thereafter, another breaking news shattered the city’s peace.

MNLF, then led by its Combatant Commander Ustadz Habier Malik, sought permission to hold a rally—that Climaco flatly denied, in recollection of the 2001 Cabatangan siege.

On September 9, 2013, MNLF combatants from aboard an engine pump boat entered Zamboanga and upon having noticed by a Navy Seal on duty patrol, fired at the latter in response to his shot on the air signalling for team back up support. This led to the urban armed conflict in six coastal barangays: Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina, TalonTalon, Mampang, Rio Hondo, and Mariki.

Mayor Beng Climaco did file a case against Nur Misuari and the MNLF, however, the case remains on abeyance due to President Duterte’s “bold and fresh initiatives” to “seek sustainable peace with justice,” as Climaco stated in the past.

As if what Zamboanga has gone through in the MNLF intrusión of the city’s peace was barely enough, Typhoon Yolanda in October 2013 violated other coastal and urban barangays in the city and heightened the damages, physically, mentally, and morally, devastating homes, properties, and commercial establishments and business operations.

In both incidents, Task Force Zamboanga and several other units in the Philippine military that came to support, did their best to defend the city’s peace and security, The command of TFZ then was ably led by he who would later be the first Mindanaoan to be Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Alexander Yano, a member of the elite Special Forces. He too became an “adopted son” of the city.

Six years thereafter, and in July 2019, the Command Center of the Zamboanga City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office broke ground, this time with Climaco as Mayor on a third term. This follows President Duterte’s program on building quality infrastructure.

Yet, learning from the MNLF violative intrusions, and the wrath of Yolanda, Climaco and the officials of the city government are tougher this time.

In the first thirty days in office, they equipped themselves (with the aid of national and international agencies) with the needed training and planning right, as the executive and legislative bodies jointly worked on the city’s strategic plan, the Executive-Legislative Agenda.

Among other matters, it has been of common ground hence that Cabatangan will soon have a special point of remembrance, as a triggering point in the city’s development in this coming decade. Quality infrastructure, to the Philippine President, is a step to healing. (Maria Frenci L. Carreon, NoToViolence.PH)

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