Food, medicine, toiletries, and other basic needs are fast disappearing in parts of war-torn Zamboanga City as fighting between government troops and Moro National Liberation Front gunmen enters Day 5, engulfing the city in a dark pall of violence and isolation, forcing a business group to appeal for donations in kind to cover the basic needs of people after the normal supply lines and the course of commerce have been disrupted.
While electricity continues to energize the city, helped by the fact that factories such as one for canning have shut down since Monday, all commercial flights—except military aircrafts—have been suspended by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) until Sept. 21.
"We appeal for support for ready to eat food stuffs, toiletries, medicine,” Pedro Soliven, Zamboanga Chamber of Commerce president, said in a text message to GMA News Online on Thursday.
The business group also appealed for “... the government to take a decisive action, to end the five-day siege ASAP (as soon as possible)," he added.
The city is "still volatile and standstill" and there are still no flights and shipping, Soliven noted.
Already in place is a resolution on forced evacuation to minimize civilian casualties.
"The city approved a resolution on forced evacuation. Evacuation sites are schools, churches, and the city sports complex," said Soliven.
In a separate interview by phone last Tuesday, Soliven noted only a few supermarkets opened for business and only for a couple of hours so that people shop for basic necessities.
In a report on GMA News TV's “News To Go” on Friday, stringer Jayvee Francisco said an official of the Zamboanga Chamber of Commerce described the city as "paralyzed," particularly because almost all modes of
transportation to and from the city were suspended.
Still, travel by land was limited because of a 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. curfew in the city.
CAAP also declared a 25-nautical mile no-fly zone surrounding the Zamboanga International Airport, except for military and special government flights.
Nearby airports in the cities of Dipolog and Pagadian, however, are operating taking up the slack from Zamboanga.
PNoy vows to end crisis
Philippine President Benigno Aquino visited Zamboanga on Friday, vowing to end the crisis and warning the gunmen against harming civilian hostages or resorting to flagrant destruction.
Aquino urged the port city of Zamboanga to stand firm as MNLF fighters battled troops and set fire to homes for a fifth day in a bid to derail efforts to end a long Muslim rebellion.
"Our forces and equipment on the ground are overwhelming," Aquino told a news conference, while stressing there were no shortcuts to resolving the crisis without risking heavy casualties.
Officials said nearly 200 Zamboanga residents have been seized and are being used as human shields by gunmen holding out in parts of six coastal districts of the city.
"We cannot rush this. We have to be deliberate in order to ensure no lives are lost unnecessarily," Aquino said.
"We're not setting a deadline but we have decisive points. If they harmed hostages, resorted to arson and crossed other lines that should not be crossed, our security forces have instructions on what to do."
At least 22 people have been killed and 52 wounded in Zamboanga, while 19 of the gunmen have surrendered or been captured, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP.
Cebu Pacific continues to operate commercial flights from Dipolog and Pagadian, but passenger safety remains a priority for the airline that the company isn't encouraging clients to rebook flights from Zamboanga because travel by land may not be safe, the airline's vice president for marketing and distribution Candice Iyog told GMA News Online.
"We have flights there but we don't know if it's safe to travel. We don't want to sacrifice the safety of our passengers, so it's not our top priority," she said.
Instead, the airline is giving passengers the option to rebook flights with no penalties or to have a full refund.
Rival Philippine Airlines (PAL) opted for contingency measures by ferrying passengers out of the beleaguered city to Cebu on board a Philippine Air Force (PAF) C-130 plane.
PAL said it flew the first batch of 80 passengers on board a PAF C-130 to Cebu. The batch was part of 450 passengers from Jolo, who are Muslim pilgrims bound for Mecca via Manila.
In separate advisories Friday, PAL and Cebu Pacific said they are closely coordinating with government and the PAF to ferry stranded passengers—mostly Muslim pilgrims bound for Mecca—from Zamboanga to Cebu where they can be accommodated by flights to Manila.
"This is an initiative that was made by the Department of Interior and Local Government with the Philippine Air Force on the appeal of NCMF, so we don't know how many can be flown out of Zamboanga," Iyog said.
NCMF is the National Commission on Muslim Filipino.
Operations at the Zamboanga seaport were also suspended on orders of Lieutenant Junior-Grade Jomark Angue, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Zamboanga station commander, as passenger safety by sea remains uncertain.
The Zamboanga port caters to passenger ships to Manila, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Cebu, and Davao. Ferryboats also convey goods and passengers to Sandakan in Sabah, Malaysia.
The Department of Energy said there so far is no power supply problem in Zamboanga.
"We made sure that there is enough supply of electricity in Zamboanga,” DOE Electric Power Industry Management Bureau director Mylene Capongcol told GMA News Online in a separate interview.
“So far, there have been no reports of power outages," she added.
Zamboanga's 16 canning plants, mostly sardine factories, were shut down and businesses were shuttered since the turmoil started on Monday.
With huge power contracts idle, the imbalance in supply and demand may happen – a situation that is an obvious force majeure, Capongcol noted.
"If the factories do not meet the power supply contracts, the independent power producers can treat this as force majeure due to the situation in Zamboanga... It's almost war," she said.
"The National Power Corporation can allocate the unused electricity to neighboring areas as the city currently has a limited demand," Capongcol added. — With Agence France-Presse/VS, GMA News