By AC Nicholls
Military officials think that Commander Habier Malik, said to be the leader of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels who laid siege on Zamboanga City, has not been able to flee, Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said on Thursday, the 11th day of hostilities.
The military officials in the embattled city, however, admitted that they were finding it hard to account for all the rebels who took part in the attacks.
Government troops on the ground had now carrying out clearing operations, concentrating on Barangays Santa Barbara and Santa Catalina.
Clearing the area was not as easy as it sounds, Tutaan said: "If you could care to google it, it is a large residential area. It is not a just plain field wherein in the middle that;s where they are and we could just encircle it just like that."
Tutaan said the worst was over and the skirmishes would be over soon, especially since only about 40 rebels remained with only about 20 civilian hostages.
As of Thursday morning, 12 military men have been killed in action and over 100 were wounded.
On the MNLF side, 86 were killed and 95 were either surrendered or were arrested.
Meanwhile, President Benigno Aquino, during a press briefing at the reopened Zamboanga International Airport, said: "Nung nag-umpisa nagbabakan, sa dagat – hindi pa sa lupa – nagkalat-kalat yung kanilang tinatayang mga 200 pwersa. Hindi naka-mass. Pero, by the following day, nakuha nating mailipat lahat 'nung forces para magkaroon ng overwhelming force laban sa kanila. Kaya ulit, ano, nakita naman natin, imbes na mapalawak 'yung teritoryong nababalot sa dilim ay napaliit nang napaliit mula 'nung unang araw [At the start of the hostilities, the force of an estimated 200 rebels were scattered in the sea, not yet on land. They were not massed up. But, by the following day, we were able to deploy forces so that we had overwhelming force to fight them. So, as we have seen, instead of them being able to widen the territory they held, we were able to make it smaller and smaller on the first day]."
Tutaan said the standoff would not have lasted this long, had the firefights not been sporadic and scattered.
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Pia Hontiveros, Chief Correspondent and anchor of Solar Network News and News.Ph, presents the Solar News and Current Affairs year-ender special: On the Cusp of Change. A deafening silence, not out of a loss for words but a grief that cannot be spoken, for thousands lost to a super typhoon ... A muted pain from a powerful tremor that violently shook the heart of the nation ... An unspeakable anger over pork barrel that fueled a political maelstrom ... These and other stories from the extraordinary challenging year that was.