After violence erupted in the southern Philippines, tens of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes. Samaritan's Purse worked with partners on the ground to meet their needs.
The nearly three-week conflict between Muslim rebel fighters and government forces in Zamboanga City was officially declared “over” by the Philippines’ central government on Saturday, September 28. Samaritan’s Purse provided financial support to a local Christian partner organization in the southern Philippines for the feeding of nearly 500 individuals during the height of the crisis.
In the early hours of September 9, a few hundred armed members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) landed in Zamboanga, on the southern island of Mindanao. Fighting soon erupted between them and local security. Violence spread to several villages with the MNLF taking between 100 and 200 civilian hostages and using them as human shields, according to media reports. The national military was later called in. All hostages were eventually freed.
Several hundred people fled to a local Christian school the day after fighting began. Most of the evacuees are from the Sama and Tausug ethnic groups. Through our partner, they receive three meals a day, primarily canned sardines, fried fish, other seafood, and vegetables.
“I keep on wondering why you people care so much for us,” one man who found refuge on the school’s campus said to our partner’s staff. “We are Sama; you are from another tribe. You do not treat us the way others do. They do not like to mingle with us, let alone to be in one place with us.”
The staff was quick to tell him that God’s love compels them to love others.
“We may come from different tribes, but God sees us all the same. He loves us all.”
More than 100,000 residents were displaced by the violence, according to the United Nations, with 70,000 overcrowded into the city’s sports complex at one point. Many evacuees remain at the complex and at the school since fires related to the crisis destroyed 10,000 homes, according to the UN.
Clearing operations are scheduled to continue in the city, the country’s sixth largest by population, for another two weeks; limited violence has occurred and more is expected as some stragglers refuse to surrender.
To date, the conflict has claimed the lives of 12 civilians and 24 military/security personnel. More than 260 people have been wounded among troops and city residents, according to reports. More than 190 insurgents have been killed and nearly 300 additional rebels have either surrendered or been captured.
The MNLF has engaged in armed conflict against the Philippine government since the 1970s. Criminal charges, including rebellion and acts against international humanitarian law, have been brought by the government against numerous MNLF fighters in relation to this crisis. Habier Malik, a leader in the attack and right-hand man of MNLF founder Nur Misuari, remains unaccounted for.
Please pray for our local Christian partners and for long-term peace and recovery in Zamboanga.