Vows to stop new MNLF attacks, leaves Zambo City amid unresolved standoff
President Benigno Aquino III said the government will file charges against Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari as it now has witnesses directly linking him to the 15-day hostage crisis in Zamboanga City.
The President also said that the military and the intelligence community would work even harder to ensure that a similar attack would be quickly thwarted.
“We do not want this to happen again, but if ever there is another threat, our security forces are always ready,” he said.
Back to Manila. President Benigno Aquino III boards his plane for Manila after staying for 10 days in Zamboanga City to supervise the operation against the MNLF rebels. He is shown below with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces Chief Emmanuel Bautista, National Police Chief Alan Purisima, and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman while addressing reporters at the Edwin Andrews Base before boarding his plane. Malacañang Photo Bureau
In an earlier interview, Mr. Aquino admitted there was a need to improve the government’s intelligence services to thwart such attacks.
Mr. Aquino also appealed to the public to cooperate with the government, citing reports that preparations for the Zamboanga siege took a year, and that the rebels smuggled their arms into the area.
“My question is: how come the MNLF was able to prepare and no one noticed? Maybe if somebody noticed and immediately informed the authorities, this would not have happened,” Aquino said.
On Sunday, government planes dropped flyers into the MNLF-occupied barangays urging the remaining rebels to surrender.
“Our military is not letting up on their efforts to end the standoff. They have dropped flyers in the areas where they believe some elements of the Nur Misuari-faction of the MNLF are still holding fort,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
She said the flyers called on the MNLF rebels, whom the military believe to be anywhere between 30 to 50, to surrender and end the hostilities.
“So far some have responded to the messages. We hope all of them will,” Valte said without giving any details.
While the clearing operations of the military continue, Aquino said legal action against Misuari will soon begin.
“We will prosecute Misuari; we will hold him accountable for this,” said the President in an interview in Zamboanga City before flying back to Manila Sunday afternoon.
“We have witnesses who will directly link him to this conflict. Our Department of Justice is now preparing the case, and we have additional prosecutors who will focus on this case,” added Aquino who stayed in strife-torn city for the 10 days.
The government has already urged citizens to send aid for more than 100,000 people who had fled the heavy fighting between troops and MNLF rebels, calling their plight a “humanitarian crisis.”
The standoff has claimed more than 100 lives since hundreds of MNLF rebels invaded the key trading center of Zamboanga, sending 118,000 to take refuge in 57 evacuation centers while forcing 188,000 students out of school.
Aquino said two of Misuari’s demands were impossible to meet – one is for the expansion of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao without a plebiscite and only through the review process of the 1996 final peace agreement and the other is for Misuari to head ARMM.
When the Organic Act was passed, a plebiscite was held in 13 provinces that would have formed the ARMM territory, but only five provinces and one city agreed to be included.
“If the end point for him to be satisfied is to get all 13, under a regional government of which he will head, how can I force that on anybody?” the President said.
“If that is his bargaining position or negotiating position, that is not doable,” Aquino added.
Last week, Aquino said the evidence against Misuari as having masterminded the Zamboanga siege was getting stronger with the aborted tripartite review process in Jogjakarta, Indonesia.
Aquino noted that Misuari was supposed to be among the MNLF leaders who would attend the meeting in Indonesia, which was postponed due to the hostilities in Zamboanga City.
The Sept. 16 Jogjakarta tripartite review would have provided a venue to hear the government’s proposal to terminate the review process on the 1996 final peace agreement with the MNLF and the MNLF’s counterproposal.
The termination of the review process, along with the planned abolition of the ARMM which is a product of the 1996 final peace agreement, triggered the Zamboanga hostage standoff.
The ARMM will be replaced by the Bangsamoro - a new political entity that would be created once a comprehensive peace agreement is signed between the government and the MNLF’s rival, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The MNLF said they have been left out of the peace process, but the Palace said Misuari turned down an invitation to join the Transition Commission that would draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law.