Here in this sleepy fishings port on the Moro Gulf it is almost the first anniversary of a cease-fire in one of the world's nastiest civil wars.
Few people are celebrating. Two months ago a Philippine army general and 33 of his men were killed in cold blood when they appeared for a negotiating session with Mostem rebels on an island south of here. Rebel-planted land mines in Basilan, an island just across the strait from here, where many Zamboangans have relatives, have killed 28 people in recent weeks.
In one of the periodie house-to-house searches that further alienate the Moslems who comprise about 40 per cent of the city's 200,000 people, more signs of potential tragedy turned up. The military said it found rebel weapons caches of 60 mortar shells, 63 M-79 shells, 10 fragmentary grenades, 50 sticks of dynamite and 6,650 rounds of assorted ammunition.
An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 people have died in the last five years in skimishes, ambushes and explosions across the Philippines huge southern island of Mindanao and other nearby islands populated by a volatile mixture of Christians and Moslems.
The Jaunary cease-fire that brought a temporary lull has now begun to crumble, as most observers expected. The cease-fire commission representing both the rebel Moro National Liberation Front and the Christian-dominated Philippine government still stis in Zamboania, manufacturing legal niceties as it goes along.Hatimil E. Hassan, the 28-year-old former medical student who represents the rebel front, excuses new Moslem atrocities as the work of renegade units. The official government and army representatives excuse their own bloody reprisals as "police actions" conducted within the rules of the cease-fire.
A few weeks ago, despite the cease-fire, the government welfare agency reported that 87,000 refugees in the area were still homeless because of the fighting. The agency says it has assisted up to 250,000 refugees over the last five years of the conflict.
"It's going to be a long war," said Rene Fernandez, 37, a Zamboanga who voices the general feeling of both Christtmas and Moslems jhere.
Actually, the war has gone on for about 300 years, beginning with the Spanish attempt to bring Roman Catholicism to southern Filipinos, who long before had converted to Islam.
The Moros, as the Moslems are sometimes called here, first fought the Spanish, then the Americans after the United States took the islands away from Spain, and now fight the Christianized Filipinos whose mass movement has reduced the Moslems to minority status.
"The Moslems here have always been what he might call a second Gen. Teofisto L. Gaurand, deputy southern commander of the Philippine armed forces. The Catholic businessmen and government administrators who provide the bulk of the better-paying jobs here have had little use for young Moslems. The Moslems' upbringing on farms and fishing villages, and their ancestral resentment of the Christians, have made them more independent and less imbued with the promptness and discipline that win jobs for Catholic youth.
"Now they have had it up to here with the Christian domination," Gaurano said.
Phillipine President Ferdinand Marcos has used some imagination in addressing Moslem grievances. He has put the army to work building roads and repairing mosques. He has removed legal barriers to the Moslems' ancient, profitable island-to-island trade with Malaysia that brings goods into the country without duty. He has enlisted the aid of international Islamic leaders to reach a settlement.
But Marcos is also largely to blame for banning the coals of the old conflict into new flame five years ago. His declaration of martial law, designed to end what he called political chaos in the north, included a demand class people in Mindanao," said Brig, that private armies throughout the country turn in all their weapons. This destroyed a delicate power balance here, for the relatively quiescent Moslems considered their arms eaches an important insurance policy and decided they would have to start shooting again to protect them.
Marcos arranged the cease-fire a year ago by dispatching his wife, Imelda, to negotiate with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, the prime supplier of the Moros' money and weapons. In the end, it turned out that Marcos promised more than his Christian constitutents here would accept, as did Qaddafi on behalf of the rebels. As the cease-fire dragged on without the local political and economic autonomy, including the right to a Moslem police force, that the rebels thought they had been promised, they grew bitter.
Marcos expressed the Christian viewpoint in a recent interview, saying rebel violations have become very pervasive - only extensive extortion of money and increase in training as well as recruitment of personnel but outright violence and attacks on government posts. "The massacre of Brig. Gen. Teodulfo Bautista and 33 of his men in the village of Patikul on the island of Sula" shocked us all, Marcos said. It is our firm belief that this was ordered by the heirarchy of the MNLF."
Bautista had gone to the village Oct. 10 at the request of Moro leader Usman Sali, who said he wanted to discuss coming over to the government side along with his men. Such peaceful meetings between the two sides had been common since the cease-fire. Bautista walked into the village square surrounded by 200 armed Moslems and was greeted with a smile by Usman Sali.
Then, according to the one government soldier who survived by playing dead, a cry went up and the Moros opened fire from all sides. The government soldiers did not get off a single shot. When all had fallen, the Moslems hacked at their arms and necks with bolo knives and stripped them of valuables.
Philippine government information officers later released what they said was an interview with the Libyan-based rebel front chief Nur Misuari, published in an Algerian newspaper. Misuari was quoted as saying of the Patikul massacre: "Such will be the fate of those who, like Gen. Bautista and Marcos, seek to deprive us of what we hold most dear."
The government immediately ordered one of its "police actions" in Sulu, combing villages for the killers and firing barrages at real or imagined insurgents. The army declined to estimate casualties from this or any other of its recently intensified operations.
Local journalists quoted army intelligence as saying that Usman Sali had been critically wounded in one of the operations, but Gen. Gaurano said he has seen too much of this war to believe it.
"During my six months in Sulu." he said, "Usman Sali died at least six times."