I thought it would be just another sunny day. I thought I would just visit the travel agent on Camins Avenue, go to the pueblo with my close friends for a bite, and then return home to Putik with thoughts of Manila and Istanbul popping in my head like popcorn.
Instead, I woke up to gunshots and explosions, and when we turned on the radio, we realized that it would be an unforgettable day in Zamboanga City.
We learned that dozens of men landed in Rio Hondo and Santa Barbara at 1 a.m., supposedly intending to take part in a peace rally, but armed to the teeth.
It was 5 a.m. and still pitch-black outside, and we knew that something had gone horribly wrong. But we were confident that the PNP Special Action Force would be able to do its job.
It did not take long for us to be proven wrong. Yet we were not surprised as there had been rumors that an attack was imminent, and many people had a gut feeling that something big was going to happen. But no one had any idea that it would disrupt the whole city.
I went to my Ate Lea’s house to surf the Net, as most people my age would normally do on such a lovely morning. I was shocked to learn that the storm had begun, with lots of people posting racist remarks on Facebook and elsewhere. I heard from our neighbors that some people had begun stocking up on basic goods, all of which were not needed at the moment. There were expressions of shock, of hatred. We could not understand the rebels’ actions.
After breakfast I went back to the computer and saw all those #prayforzamboanga posts. Yet most people were still trying to comprehend what was happening just a few kilometers away. My thoughts went to my friends and their families who might be trapped in the crossfire.
By 8 a.m. six barangays had been affected: Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara, Talon-Talon, Rio Hondo, Mampang and Mariki. These places are not too far away; in fact, Santa Barbara is literally a stone’s throw away from the city center, where the rebels wanted to raise a flag; and we knew that as the government forces and the rebels fought for control, we needed to pray for our city’s safety.
Hours later we turned on the TV. We saw the first news clips, mostly depressing, and the numbers started to come in: Four killed, 26 wounded, and 150 taken hostage.
Noon came and measures were implemented: The seaport and airport were shut down, two Army battalions arrived from the Western Mindanao Command, evacuation centers were set up, and the city center was cordoned off. But the fate of the city, its inhabitants, and the hostages was still uncertain.
There was a silence, like the calm before the storm. We heard that the rebels were solidifying their hold, while the government forces were awaiting more troops to effectively seal the affected areas. The two sides were biding their time. We knew that the real showdown would happen later, with no definite end in sight.
And then it was afternoon. News came that the defense and interior secretaries were flying in. I wondered what they would discuss with Mayor Beng Climaco and her staff, who, despite their inexperience, handled the situation well.
We ate a merienda of roasted bananas and ginataan, and then we heard: Curfew was to be implemented from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., and news coverage was banned from that point on. But later the authorities relented, on the condition that reporters undergo accreditation.
I thought they were just taking lessons from previous fiascoes.
Sunset came, and my family and I ate our dinner. We thought of the thousands who were unable to do so in the comfort of their homes. The barangay police set up checkpoints at critical areas. They also conducted regular patrols, so we did not have that much to fear from breakaway groups.
It was quiet outside, but not tranquil. At the end of the day, my father and I slept at the second floor of my cousin’s house, which has a very good view of the street.
Three good things happened on that day: First, a number of hostages were released. It meant less lives wasted. Second, I learned that my friends were safe. It meant one less thing to worry about. And third, we Zamboangueños learned that we are strong if united, and weak if not.
I don’t know how long it will take for the situation to stabilize. May God help everyone caught in the conflict.
Earl Carlo Guevarra, 19, is an incoming third year foreign language education student at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. He says he aspires to be a writer someday.
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