It’s 9 pm as I write this down. It’s also September 9, 2022, which means it’s the ninth anniversary of the Zamboanga Siege.
It’s a great time to look back and take stock of our progress. While it’s true that we should remember so that we learn from it, we should also apply the lessons we learn and work towards better tomorrows in our own little way.
During my stay in Zamboanga back in June, I went out of our house and saw a black Siamese cat waiting on the steps; I pet it for a while before feeding it some food. Even though the sun is at its zenith, the heat doesn’t burn me at all; instead, there is a constant light easterly breeze that moderates it.
There are different trees in the garden, including mango, guava, and malunggay, providing both shade and color to the place.
This may sound like an idyllic rural scene somewhere else in the Philippines, but it is actually in Zamboanga City. After all, when many other people associate the city with never-ending war on television and radio, it’s no surprise why it’s hard to be convinced of the fact that it’s a more peaceful place right now.
For a city that is supposed to be the gateway to warzones, the city is bustling with stores, restaurants, and coffee shops opening up left and right; thousands of people flock to malls like SM and KCC every single day, and the city’s seaside and mountain parks are full of joggers, cyclists, and couples who hold hands as they stare at the aquamarine waters of the Sulu Sea. There’s even a ginormous mosque and shopping complex that is about to open elsewhere in the city; more signs of life and development, I guess?
Also, for a city which had to feed hundreds of thousands of evacuees at the height of the 28-day war and had to endure around a similar number of people leaving the city permanently, it’s pretty good to see that there’s a semblance of normalcy these days.
It’s been almost nine years since the Zamboanga Siege occurred, yet the memory of hearing an endless cacophony of artillery shells and heavy gunfire is still fresh in my head.
In the era of the new normal, hope is alive and kicking as people go out to work. Most of the military checkpoints that were put up, especially during the Zamboanga Siege, are gone; instead, there’s only a token presence that waves every vehicle through.
It’s not perfect. There are many challenges; the utilities don’t work properly – the internet is spotty, there are rolling blackouts, and there’s even a water distribution problem these days. There’s chronic traffic and transportation problems, among other issues that need to be solved somewhere down the line.
Yet, for someone who has witnessed how war looked like for seven straight days – I got literally the front seat as I watched bombs, rockets, and tracers fly around just a couple of kilometers away back in 2013, this is paradise.
All the restaurants and coffee shops in the city are packed between 5 to 8 pm, regardless of the price point. Then, at around 9 pm, life in the city starts to close down, though more and more establishments start operating even beyond midnight.
The night markets in different parts of the city are packed with people who want to enjoy life. Young couples, extended families, barkadas – people from all walks of life are now able to enjoy many things in life that wouldn’t have been possible back in those days.
Finally, every side in the original conflict is doing their best to maintain the peace now. The road may be tough and imperfect, but there are signs of a bright and inclusive future for all.
I hope that things will be even better now, and that Zamboanga never has to see the grimdark reality of war ever again…and that we may all prosper and grow together in peace and harmony.