PORT operations in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines resumed on Sept. 17, but were still under heavy guard, while the airport is opening to selected flights starting Thursday (Sept. 19), as the security situation in the embattled city improves.
Late Wednesday, government troops were conducting mopping up operations on day 10 of the conflict after capturing the battle-scarred KGK Building along R. Lustre Street, the stronghold of the Moro National Liberation Front in the city where MNLF commander Habier Malik was believed holed up.
However, the building was empty, with Malik gone and not even bodies of slain or wounded MNLF fighters were found. Government forces have retaken as much as 80% of MNLF-controlled areas in the city, a police spokesman said.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) on Wednesday announced the lifting of its notice to airmen because of the “improving situation at the Zamboanga International Airport.”
At Zamboanga City’s seaport, Philippine Ports Authority port manager Liberto dela Rosa told PortCalls when contacted by phone that operations at the port are back 50%.
He said the port is open to accommodate inbound and outbound cargo vessels; however, passenger vessels are still not permitted to dock for safety reasons. Only chartered vessels rescuing stranded passengers are being accommodated at the port.
Dela Rosa said the 25 vessels that were at the port when the attacks started had been berthed and accommodated, continuing their voyage to other port destinations. Only a few of the vessels remain.
He also said that the berth near the Paseo del Mar would open for berthing on Sept 19.
The PPA is closely coordinating with the Philippine Coast Guard and the government crisis committee to ensure safety at the port.
PPA general manager Juan Sta. Ana said the agency expects minimal impact on the revenue and congestion of the port since vessels had been diverted to the Dapitan Port in Zamboanga del Norte.
CAAP director general William K. Hotchkiss III has authorized two commercial flights on Sept. 19, one each for PAL Express and Cebu Pacific Air, increasing the number to two flights per airline for Sept. 20.
Cebu Pacific, in a statement, said guests originally booked on Manila-Zamboanga-Manila flights on Sept. 19 will be contacted by the airline’s call center for their preferred options, which include taking the flight on Sept. 19, rebooking, getting a full refund or travel fund, rerouting, or proceeding with previously rebooked or cancelled flights.
CAAP deputy director general John C. Andrews will board the first flight to Zamboanga out of Ninoy Aquino International Airport to oversee the preliminary flight.
Hotchkiss, Andrews, and Philippine Airlines president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang boarded a private plane to assess the situation at the airport and consulted the Crisis Committee chaired by Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and Zamboanga mayor Isabelle Climaco-Salazar.
Upon assessment of the security situation in the city, Hotchkiss conferred with airline representatives in the area to arrange the opening of flights starting Sept. 19.
Andrews said that passengers will only be allowed one hand-carried luggage on the flights.
After 10 days of intermittent fighting, the casualty count in the Zamboanga crisis reached almost 300, with 104 dead and 193 wounded, the military said on Wednesday.
Data released by the Armed Forces public affairs office showed that of the 104 dead, 11 were soldiers, three policemen, seven civilians, and 83 MNLF fighters.