By Gerg Cahiles
Zamboanga City - By Monday, September 30, two days after the Interior Secretary Mar Roxas announced the end of the siege of Zamboanga City, residents got a chance to take closer look of the aftermath of the gun battles between government troops and members of the Nur Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Solar News visited Barangay Santa Catalina, a former stronghold of the rebels. In this site, you can see the extent of damaged caused by the hostilities. Most of the structures have been reduced to rubble, many of the houses burned down.
Still, three weeks after the start of hostilities, the morale of the troops was high as Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin announced that their mission was accomplished.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deployed close to 5,000 troops to fight the rebels.
At the frontlines, were the elite units of the Army – the 1st Scout Ranger Regiment and the Light Reaction Battalion.
Both are US-trained and are highly-skilled in anti-guerilla and counter-terrorism warfare.
Col. Teodoro Llamas, LRB commander, said the urban setting of the conflict proved to be challenging, since their units were mostly used to operating in jungles.
In this case, he said: "The enemy can be as close as one wall away."
So both sides had to be extremely stealthy approaching each other.
The presence of several civilian hostages complicated the operation.
Early into the crisis, President Benigno Aquino III stressed a specific order: Keep the captives alive.
"In some instances, we have to hold back our fire check, kaya minsan doon kami nauunahan [so that's when we're sometimes get beaten to the draw], as opposed to total combat na walang hostage [without hostages]," Llamas said.
As the crisis went on for days, the number of casualties on government forces also increased.
Its latest fatality count is 25, of whom 18 are soldiers, including three Army junior officers.
"Well, we just focus on the mission. We put all all emotions aside kahit may tamaan sa amin [even when one of our comrades is hit]. It's easy to say that, but it takes a lot of training and experience to practice that," Llamas said.
On Saturday, a memorial service was held at the Western Mindanao Command to pay tribute not only to fallen soldiers and policemen, but also to civilians who were caught in the middle of the violence.
Government workers, businessmen, and residents stood still as the names of those who died were read out.
Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, AFP chief, said: "I am very proud of the Filipino soldiers. You should be. All of us should be."
Llamas said of his troops: "These guys, I'd go to war with them anytime, anywhere, anyplace – simply describing it."
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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.