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My Way

E. René R. Fernandez

Back to the future

For poor, old Zambo

A tense atmosphere prevails once again over Zamboanga as the city braces for an anticipated new round of terrorist attacks. But life goes on. As one veiled local woman said in an interview over national television, the city folk have seen it all and will not allow fear of what hasn't happened yet to disrupt their routines.

Some of the tension is fueled by the common assumption that the town would once again suffer the spillover of the armed confrontations between insurgents and government forces in other areas. A part of it is produced by ill-conceived statements from government officials. Admittedly, a large measure is the result of sensationalism in the mass media, which love a good war story. Nevertheless there seems to be some real danger, and it is wise for the civilians to be cautious. Always err on the side of prudence.

There may be more than mere rebel restiveness behind the current threats. Certain agendas could be hidden in the background. We can't be sure that such agendas exist though. What should worry us in Zamboanga City, however, is that some disgruntled elements that are not necessarily rebels would take advantage of the situation to launch their own vindictive activities like, for example, criminal syndicates and illicit businessmen that are hurting from the government's clean-up and law enforcement campaigns.

The military has increased its presence in Zamboanga as a defensive measure. We're returning to our image as a highly militarized city, but it's something that can't be helped in the current situation. If there's real danger, the security forces will have to do their job, even if it means blanketing the city with troops and armor - and to hell with image. After all, tourism development can wait. It has already waited for decades.

What nobody wants to see is a flashback to the gory days of the late seventies and eighties. Civilians bear the brunt of the suffering, producing most of the casualties in any war. Those of us who have lived through the height of the Mindanao Conflict have seen our fair share of dead and mangled bodies and bloodstained pavements. The experience has made most of us abhor violence in a violent way. We don't want to see a repeat of it in the city we call home.

Let's hope the current spate of uncertainty will go away after it has played out its skein and after the various objectives of the contending groups have been achieved. Nothing beats normality, and we want the forces of violence to leave us alone to live our normal lives. But in Mindanao it might be asking too much.

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