Filipino troops have started to battle their way into coastal villages in the south held by Muslim rebels with scores of hostages to end a six-day stand-off that has left 56 people dead.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said that government forces surrounding about 200 fighters from a Moro National Liberation Front rebel faction have started to retake some of the rebel-held areas and clear roads in coastal villages in Zamboanga city.
President Benigno Aquino III said more firefights are expected but assured thousands of displaced villagers at a sports complex in Zamboanga city that the rebels' capability to sow trouble has been degraded and the government was working to end the crisis soon.
The stand-off has sent more than 60,000 residents fleeing from homes.
The Moro insurgents, led by rebel leader Nur Misuari, signed a peace deal in 1996, but the guerrillas did not lay down their arms and later accused the government of reneging on a promise to develop long-neglected Muslim regions in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. The government says Misuari kept on stalling and making new demands.
The rebels have become increasingly restive in recent months as they were overshadowed by a rival rebel group, which have engaged Mr Aquino's government in peace talks brokered by Malaysia. The talks have steadily progressed toward a new and potentially larger autonomy deal for minority Muslims in the south.
Misuari has not been seen in public since the stand-off began.
Vice President Jejomar Binay said Misuari agreed to a truce by telephone, and he relayed the news to Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who has been helping deal with the crisis in Zamboanga city. Mr Binay flew to Zamboanga to help deal with the crisis.
But Mr Gazmin said the rebels have continued to fire in violation of the agreement.
"Everybody wants peace, to stop this without more bloodshed," Mr Gazmin told DZBB radio network. "But as we speak, there's firing so there's no ceasefire. We agreed that government forces will not fire only if the MNLF will not open fire."