Leadership Journey Companion Batch 8 Kurt Cendaña shares his first hand experience in Zamboanga after the siege that happened last September 2013.
On 9 September 2013, an armed conflict between a faction of anti-Government forces and the Armed Forces of the Philippines displaced around 119,000 people in Zamboanga City. Residents fled the fighting and sought for critical assistance such as food, water, clothing, and shelter. They lost their belongings, houses, and even loved ones. Some perished due to the fighting, while some were taken as hostages by the separatist group. The fighting formally ended on 28 September 2013 as Government troops secured enemy bases and finished clearing operations. However, almost three weeks of fighting resulted in 10,000 houses burned, a problem which the City faces until today.
When I entered the Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex for the first time, which hosts majority of the displaced people in the City, I saw panic and I saw fear. The feeling of insecurity was very high, because an individual never knows whether an attack can occur again. Until today, rumours persist that another siege might happen, and everytime these rumours arise, the feeling of human insecurity grows. Living in fear is equivalent to living in poor conditions. Living in fear is a form of poverty in itself.
For a boy who grew up in a safe and sheltered environment in Quezon City, living in fear was unthinkable. Seeing faces of fear, fatigue, and terror, I felt the need to help, but I knew I would never identify with the people of Zamboanga because I was not born and raised here in the City. Fortunately, I was able to find employment that allowed me to live in Zamboanga and help in the rebuilding process in my own little way. Everyday I am still learning the dialects, embracing the diverse culture, and empathizing with the suffering of its people. Almost a year after the siege, there remain 64,000 people displaced living in evacuation camps, schools, and temporary shelters, but the healing and reconciliation period is well underway as the City rehabilitates the houses of those who lost their homes.
Now, for me, I chose to be in the education sector trying to help in the rebuilding process of students and teachers who were affected by the siege. When I see children still traumatized by what happened, my heart sinks. Probably because I don’t know how it really feels, but mostly because I know no child deserves to be scarred at such a young age. When I see teachers doing their magic, with or without a classroom, my heart is humbled by their actions. Probably because I see it as a heroic act, but mostly because I cannot even imagine doing what they are doing – on a daily basis at that. When I see classrooms still being used as evacuation camps, my heart is angered because children are being deprived of academic time that they ought to have, but at the same time I know that the displaced people also have nowhere to go to. These are a few of the conflicting emotions I experience daily. These are the ups and downs I feel on my insides as I go through this Journey of self-discovery, servant leadership, and love.
Sometimes I ask myself if I just want to pack my stuff and go home. My answer is always yes, I do want to go home. I’ve gotten sick more frequently during the past six months compared to my whole student life. Plus I miss my family, my friends, my kitchen, my car, and my bathroom. Sometimes, I even miss buying an insanely overpriced coffee at Starbucks! But then again, during the times I want to break mentally, I hold on to the fact that Jesus was nailed on the cross and humiliated by everyone. I am not even close to that – why should I break? And even if I were being nailed on the cross, I can take comfort in the fact that resurrection is forthcoming. Why should I be scared? Why should I give up?
Right now, this is where I gamble my energy, my faith, and even my frustrations. I wish for cooler heads and clearer hearts so that reconciliation can be completed and peace could be achieved – not just in Zamboanga City but the whole of Mindanao. Because in the midst of tragedy, grief, and heartbreak, the spark of hope for long-lasting peace is still very much alive.