Cell sites shut down for Fiesta Pilar rites

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/13 Oct) — Can’t call or text last Sunday?

Here’s why: cell sites were shut down here from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday as a security measure for the procession and mass to celebrate Fiesta Pilar at the Our Lady of the Pillar Shrine here.

City Information Officer Shiela Covarrubias said it was “not a total shutdown” but a “sectional halt” and done only in “areas where the religious events were held from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. mainly for security reasons.”

“The city government, based on recommendations of law enforcement authorities requested the telecommunications companies through the NTC (National Telecommunications Commission) not to operate in areas where the grand procession and mass in celebration of Fiesta Pilar were held from 2:30 p.m. to 6:p.m. today primarily due to security reasons,” she said.

Covarrubias explained that thousands of people join the religious activity yearly “and it is the city’s obligation to ensure safety for the majority even if it means doing the extreme.”

“We have just commemorated the first year since the 2013 siege and we would not want a repetition of that bitter experience. Nevertheless, the effort was properly coordinated with authorities,” she said.

On the eve of the fiesta, at around 7:35 p.m. on October 11, Task Force Zamboanga disrupted an alleged improvised explosive device (IED) placed inside a thermos at the vicinity of Plaza Pershing, near City Hall.

Asked if an explanation was made to the public after the shut down, Covarrubias said Mayor Isabelle Climaco and the city police chief “were interviewed on separate occasions.”

Like Sulu in 2000

The move to shut down mobile phone services allegedly within a limited area only but reaching as far as seven kilometers from the vicinity of the Shrine, generated criticisms from residents. Postings by Zamboanga residents on Facebook triggered reactions, mostly questioning the move, too.

Zamboanga City-based journalist Julie Alipala of the Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote on her Facebook wall: “so the 800,000 residents (of Zamboanga City) may have been carrying a bomb? A cellphone detonated bomb? Do we always need to burn all the houses or the barns to kill a single rat? Where is the multi billion intel fund?”

Cagayan de Oro-based journalist Froilan Gallardo of MindaNews, who covered last year’s standoff between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces loyal to MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari, as well as other major events in Zamboanga, Maguindanao, Lanao and North Cotabato wrote: “I remember the times which the military and police ordered the Telco companies to shut down were in 2000 when the Armed Forces of the Philippines isolated the entire Sulu island province to flush out the Abu Sayyaf which they failed (to do); and in 2003, during the Buliok war in Pikit (North Cotabato). Does it mean Zamboanga City has become a war zone again?”

In 2000, telecommunications were shut down and transportation by air and sea suspended by the military in Sulu purportedly to flush out the Abu Sayyaf from there. It was a move heavily criticized as it punished an entire population of nearly half a million people then, to flush out the bandits constituting less than one per cent of the population. (MindaNews)