Nearly 20,000 displaced by Basilan, Sibugay fighting

By Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 26 2011 04:12 PM | Updated as of Oct 27 2011 06:45 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Almost 20,000 people are now displaced due to continued armed encounters in Zamboanga Sibugay and in Basilan, data from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) revealed Wednesday.

The NDRRMC said 11,593 persons are affected in Zamboanga Sibugay and another 7,888 in Basilan. This totals to 19,481 individuals affected in two provinces alone.

Many of the displaced are now staying in evacuation centers within the safest schools in their respective towns.
Philippine Army 1st Division commander Maj. Gen. Noel Coballes said military operations are ongoing in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay for the arrest of suspected lawless elements.

No airstrike was conducted Wednesday but the Air Force is ready to fly anytime to reinforce the ground troops.

"Hindi pa kami makapasok sa loob. Hindi pa clear yung area. The Navy and Air Force tumutulong na rin sa amin," he said.

Waning Abdulsalam, a Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader, is suspected to be on the run after a series of air strikes yesterday. Both the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army admit they have yet to arrest any of those personalities mentioned as perpetrators and leaders of the series of attacks against the military, police and civilians.
Coballes said they have neutralized at least 6 lawless elements, but the total number of forces of Abdulsalam is estimated at 50 to 80 heavily armed men.

"Wala pa tayo dun pero it already took a heavy toll on them, those wounded are dying na rin," he said.

The Army earlier reported there were roughly 40 lawless elements who have been injured in yesterday's air strikes.

Coballes said there is no specific timeline for the military offensive "but we want to finish as soon as possible to calm people down."
On Wednesday, troops from the 51st Infantry Battalion in Lanao Del Sur with two Simba military tanks arrived in Zamboanga Sibugay as reinforcements.

Several other soldiers are also now preparing their equipment and are standing by for deployment at the 102nd Brigade in the capital Ipil.

Two Huey helicopters were also seen hovering around the province as part of the continuous clearing operations in the area. Several soldiers are also continuing their foot patrols to safeguard residents who are fearing for their lives.

Giovanni Rivera, chief of staff  of Zamboanga Sibugay Gov. Rommel Jalosjos, said the Army's presence somehow diminishes the fear due to the encounters. "May fear sila pero generally may support naman ang mga sundalo," Rivera said.
Police forces have warned the members of media and other private organizations who would want to enter the towns of Alicia, Payao and Talusan in Zamboang Sibugay to take precautionary measures and coordinate first since they consider this areas as high risk territory and security is a question.

Sr. Supt. Ruben Cariaga said even the police and military are not entering these towns without tactical planning and reinforcement troops on standby. "Wag pong kumpyansa, ang nangyayari po kasi nagiging target ang mga marked vehicles, may mga sympathizers kasi sila sa ibat-ibang lugar."