How MNLF men in Zambo siege were 'deceived'
Lies told: UN backing siege, PNoy gives up Zamboanga
MANILA - The governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) believes Moro National Liberation Front fighters who sowed violence in Zamboanga City over the past two weeks were deceived again and again about their true purpose in the southern city.
Speaking to ANC's Headstart, ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said some of the rebels loyal to MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari could have been given misinformation that their armed struggle would be supported by the United Nations and that President Aquino had already given up control of Zamboanga City to the MNLF.
He said some of the rebels who have since surrendered to authorities thought they would just be raising a flag at the Zamboanga City Hall and meet UN peacekeeping forces in that area.
About 200 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) entered Zamboanga, a major trading center with one million residents, on September 9 in the most serious armed challenge to the Philippine government in recent years.
Despite the deaths of 102 rebels and the capture or surrender of over a hundred others, almost 50 MNLF fighters still remain, holding 20 hostages, said police regional spokesman Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca.
Hataman said that in the first 3 days of the fighting, local authorities were still trying to convince the rebels to just go home and end the fighting.
He said one MNLF subcommander who had taken 20 hostages in Barangay Talon-Talon insisted that their group was only planning to attend a flag-raising ceremony at Zamboanga City Hall.
"They said it was supposed to be peaceful but that's hard to believe when you are bearing arms and taking hostages," he said.
He said mayors from different ARMM areas then started calling him last September 20 after the military beefed up its offensive against the MNLF.
"Hindi nila akalain na ang pupuntahan nila ay gera. Ang sinasabi sa kanila, after nila mag flag-raising ay may darating na UN peacekeeping force. Yung iba nga nakausap namin through phone and even the kamag-anak na pinagpaalaman nila yung intention talaga. Meron pang ilan na sinasabi may mga matatanda na nagbigay ng contribution na P3,000. Parang sinasabi pang deposit sa ATM at yung ATM na yun duon ibubuhos ang sweldo nila na P10,000," he told ANC.
He said one mayor was even informed by his uncle, an MNLF fighter, that he would be joining the siege.
When the mayor tried to stop him, his uncle then said: "Don't intervene because when I come back, I'll be the mayor here."
Hataman said the revelation caused many officials to realize that so much misinformation was being peddled to the MNLF fighters just to join in the supposed peace march in Zamboanga.
PNoy giving up Zamboanga?
The ARMM Governor said that a month before the Zamboanga fighting, a supposed American identified only as Daniel Xavier went to Misuari in Zamboanga City and said he was allegedly sent by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
He said the man allegedly told Misuari that the UN would support the MNLF's move to declare indepedence in some areas in Mindanao.
Hataman said he called up the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to verify the alleged information, prompting the UN office in Manila to deny any relationship with Xavier.
The ARMM governor said that during the first week of the siege, two officials also tried to negotiate with the rebels to end the fighting, release the hostages and go home.
He said the rebel commander rejected the demand "because he had received a text saying that President Aquino had angrily told the Zamboanga Mayor Beng Climaco to give up the city to the MNLF."
"Ang misinformation sa mga taong ito ay sagad na sagad hanggang buto," he added.
Hataman said he does not know if Misuari believed the deception of the alleged UN backing. He said the MNLF chairman is a former professor of the University of the Philippines.
He, however, noted that Misuari might know about the deception "but still wanted to create mass support from his followers."
No sacred cow
Hataman said it is difficult to forge a cease-fire with the MNLF when Misuari is in Sulu and not in Zamboanga.
He also backed President Aquino's decision not to grant a safe conduct pass to the group of Misuari since many innocent lives were lost during the 2-week firefight with government forces.
The ARMM Governor said Misuari has a pattern of causing trouble every time he does not get his way, pointing out as example the MNLF siege of Cabatangan Complex, northwest of Zamboanga City, in 2001.
He said Misuari declared independence after losing in the ARMM gubernatorial elections last May 2013.
Hataman said he could not help but feel sorry for some of Misuari's blind followers who were promised cash and firearms just to join the Zamboanga siege.
Still, he said he backs the decision of the Aquino government to press charges against Misuari but stopped short of calling him a terrorist.
"Hindi naman pwede gumawa ka ng krimen at madami kang nasaktan, papabayaan ka....Dapat walang sacred cow. Kapag lumabag ka sa batas, hindi dapat special ang treatment sa yo para may justice for all," he said.
"Yung action is a terror act pero hindi pa pwedeng ma-label. Baka na miscalculate nila but if you look at the law, it was an act of terror," he added.