MNLF wants Indonesia to mediate
Separatists claim gov't diverting attention from pork scam
MANILA – The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on Tuesday said any move by the Philippine government to file sedition or rebellion charges against the separatist group.
"Ito po ay kalokohan. Sino ba ang maniniwala na impartial ang procedure na ikaw ay partido sa kaso tapos sa venue mo kakasuhan? Dapat doon siya pumasok sa international committee. Kung magka-kaso sila ng sedition at rebellion sa venue nila, sinong maniwala sa international community?" MNLF spokesperson Emmanuel Fontanilla told dzMM.
Fontanilla reiterated that the MNLF troops currently holed up in Zamboanga City did not come to sow violence.
He said the group only visited the area to conduct a "peaceful rally" and serve as escort for their leader, Nur Misuari.
The MNLF recently declared independence for Palawan, Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, and even Sabah and Sarawak, which are controlled by Malaysia. Misuari called it a "peaceful revolution."
The declaration of independence came amid strong opposition from the MNLF to the ongoing peace talks between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an MNLF breakaway group.
The MNLF felt left out in the MILF-GPH talks, saying the government should have not abandoned the tripartite review of the 1996 final peace agreement.
Fontanilla said Indonesia must act as mediator in the ongoing standoff in Zamboanga City. Indonesia is the chair of the peace committee of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which acted as the third-party facilitator in the tripartite review.
"Itong Philippine government, the problem is there is a peace agreement yet they used military force to solve the problem kaya nagkaka-enkwentro," he said.
"We have been telling that the only thing that could [end this standoff] is [the entrance of] a third-party [facilitator], particularly the OIC and UN (United Nations)… Political ang problema, the solution is [should be] political. The military should have not been used in the situation."
He added the MNLF is "very unhappy" that the situation has escalated to this level and that the government has no other recourse but to use what they insist is a "political solution."
"This is a stupid situation. Kami po ay very, very, very, unhappy. We regret this. It's very unfortunate na nagkakaganito dahil sa katangahan ng Philippine government," he said.
'Gov't diverting public attention'
The spokesman also claimed that the government is using the Zamboanga siege to divert public attention from the pork barrel scam.
The scam has been rocking the nation after several high-ranking government officials were implicated in the alleged embezzlement of billions of public funds.
At the center of the controversy is Janet Lim Napoles, a businesswoman who allegedly set up fake non-government organizations to siphon pork barrel funds of lawmakers.
"Totoo ang sinasabi na dina-divert ang problema ng Napoles dito sa Mindanao. Kasi ganoon ang ginagawa nila, kapag may problema sa Malacañang, Mindanao ang titirahin," he said.
"Talagang bistado na sila sa Napoles at pork barrel na scam. Why they did not use the political solution?"
Meanwhile, Fontanilla dismissed the other factions of the MNLF, saying the OIC recognizes the faction led by Misuari.
Apart from the Misuari faction, the MNLF has two other factions, one is led by Muslimin Sema and other by Habib Mujahab Hashim.
Over 100 held hostage
Around 170 civilians are still being kept hostage by MNLF rebels in the city, according to Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas gave a higher figure of 180, but said the discrepancy is negligible since these are just "soft estimates."
He noted that the civilians under MNLF custody were neither tied up nor detained.
"Mariin kong pinaparating na sa obserbasyon ng ating mga security forces at pati na rin sa pagsa-salaysay ng mga na-release, tila hindi pangho-hostage ang nangyari sa kanila. More na parang naging 'human shield,'" Roxas said.
He also assured the public that there will be no spillover of the violence in Zamboanga City, saying government troops have been successful in restricting the movements of the MNLF rebels.
"Hindi na kakalat ito sa ibang bahagi ng Zamboanga City. All vital installations are secured," he said at a press conference in Zamboanga City.
The DILG chief said the government is in full control of the situation, belying claims that the military and police were caught off guard by the series of incidents.
"Natiktikan at matagumpay na nakapag-responde ang pamahalaan kaya nakikita niyo na medyo kalat at hindi coordinated ang galaw ng nasa kabila at sila ngayon ang napapaligiran ng pwersa ng gobyerno," Roxas said.
Violence erupted anew between MNLF rebels and government forces in Barangay Sta. Barbara before dawn Tuesday, the second day of the standoff.
The gunfights reportedly took place near a school and a mosque, where some MNLF snipers were spotted. The mosque was several blocks away from the office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) where some soldiers are stationed.
Some MNLF rebels also fired mortars at the Zamboanga City port, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.
Climaco said the city government is leaving it up to the military and the police to conduct negotiations with the MNLF amid the escalating tension in the city.