(Updated 10:45 a.m.) - The crisis involving the standoff between government and Moro National Liberation Front forces in Zamboanga City may finally be showing signs of ending, after more than 60 hostages regained their freedom early Tuesday.
But the military and city government appeared to give conflicting accounts of what happened, with the military claiming the hostages were rescued while the city government said the hostages "escaped" or were "freed."
Maj. Harold Cabunoc, commander of the Philippine Army's 7th Civil Relations Group, said the Army's elite Special Operations Forces rescued the 64 in Sta. Barbara around 4 a.m. Tuesday.
He said the "rescued" hostages included four children.
Cabunoc lauded the SOCOM troopers for their work.
An earlier report by radio dzBB's Benjie Liwanag Jr. said a batch of 60 was brought to Camp Batalla aboard two buses for a medical checkup. An updated report said another batch of three to five was freed.
According to a Mr. Oliveros, a relative of one of the freed hostages, they received a call at around 3 a.m. that said the military had rescued the hostages.
The dzBB report also said most of the freed hostages boarded two buses from the City Colleges of Zamboanga in Sta. Barbara village.
City govt: 69 hostages 'escaped'
But the Zamboanga City government offered a slightly different account of what happened, saying 69 hostages were "released/escaped."
Tuesday's reported release came hours after an earlier release of 36 hostages in Zamboanga City Monday evening.
Another 10 regain freedom
An updated report by dzBB's Benjie Liwanag Jr. past 8 a.m. Tuesday said another 10 hostages regained their freedom.
The report said this, plus the 64 hostages who regained their freedom earlier Tuesday and the 36 who were freed Monday evening, brought to 110 the number of hostages freed. Three soldiers slain At least three soldiers gave their lives in the last 18 hours in efforts to rescue the hostages
held by the MNLF, Maj. Harold Cabunoc, commander of the Philippine Army’s 7th Civil Relations Group, said Tuesday. Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima, meanwhile, said at least 120 hostages had been rescued Tuesday, bringing the total number of hostages rescued to 150.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas announced around 10 a.m. the names of the hostages during a press briefing Tuesday, according to a dzBB radio report.
Roxas said the hostages will be processed by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and then turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development for debriefing.
The hostages can expect to be reunited with their families in about two hours, said Roxas.
Supply, escape routes watched
Meanwhile, a separate dzBB report said the military is keeping tight watch on possible escape routes by the MNLF, including those in coastal areas.
The MNLF had engaged the government's forces in a standoff that entered its ninth day Tuesday, after taking several civilians hostage.
A separate report by dzBB's Glen Juego said the tight watch also seeks to make sure no firearms, ammunition or other supplies can reach the MNLF from the outside.
Mindanao bishops appeal for dialogue, peace in Zamboanga
“We are deeply saddened and disturbed by this terrible tragedy to human life and property. We express our solidarity with all those affected Muslims and Christians alike,” the CBCP quoted the bishops as saying in their statement posted online on Sept. 14.
“We condemn the terror that has been inflicted on an entire city. We condemn the inhumane act of using hostages as human shields,” they added.
The bishops also appealed to both sides to "discuss the deeper issues" regarding the ongoing peace efforts between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
According to them, this may be part of what the armed MNLF members "wanted to raise by their action.”
Since Sept. 9, government and MNLF forces had engaged in a standoff after MNLF members took several civilians hostage.
The bishops lamented Zamboanga City had been “virtually paralyzed” and in a “state of fear.”
Meanwhile, the bishops appealed to the government, non-government organizations and civil society to provide assistance to evacuees.
Also, they called on the MNLF and the government to negotiate “for the release of hostages.”
“As leaders of our Catholic communities, we join hands with other religious leaders —Muslims, Christians, and Lumad — in praying and working for peace. Peace, yes; war, never,” they added.