Local officials ask MILF, MNLF: Leave Zamboanga alone
MANILA, Philippines – Zamboanga City officials asked the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to leave their city alone.
Mayor Maria Isabelle "Beng" Climaco and Representative Celso Lobregat said they are supportive of the peace deal between the government and the MILF, but reiterated that Zamboanga City should not be included in the new territory.
"We, the City of Zamboanga, fully support the peace process and effort of President Aquino. However, we continually make our stand that we belong to one Zamboanga City, a united community of 98 barangays, and One Republic of the Philippines. We do not want to be divided," Climaco said during the Senate hearing on Thursday, February 6.
Lobregat added: "Peace be with you. Please leave us in peace."
In a Senate hearing on the September 2013 Zamboanga siege launched by followers of MNLF founder Nur Misuari, Climaco expressed concerns over what she called "threats" that the city continue to face. She asked the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to address the local concerns.
Consistent vote vs Muslim territory
The MILF in January attempted to set up a Bangsamoro political affairs office in Zamboanga City, Mayor Climaco told senators on Thursday.
"On January 17, 2014, a group of so-called MILF members attempted to put up an MILF political office in barangay Cawit in the west coast, claiming to be the mayor of the 3rd district of Zamboanga and a barangay chairperson," Climaco said.
A new Bangsamoro region – bigger than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – will be set up as soon as the government and the MILF finalize a peace deal. It is imminent following the signing of the last annex on firearms in late January.
The city repeatedly voted against joining the ARMM in plebiscites conducted in 1989 and 2001. They again voted in 2008 against joining the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity being proposed by the Arroyo administration.
The attempt to set up an MILF office in Zamboanga City was thwarted after it was reported to the OPAPP. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles confirmed the attempt but said this was immediately addressed.
The MILF denied they instructed it. "The MILF leadership said this is not under their ambit. They pulled out and instructed not to push through with this. Within two days, the matter was settled," Deles told senators.
Deles vowed OPAPP will "take swift and determined action in case MILF takes hostile action in any part of Mindanao."
Lobregat said the city has "suffered enough" in the past because of the insistence of certain camps to include the city in a Muslim territory.
"The nightmares are still vivid. The wounds are fresh and just starting to heal. The scars have not even been formed. But yet again Zamboanga City was threatened and disturbed this time by the MILF," Lobregat said.
The MILF is a breakaway unit of the MNLF but is now the dominant group.
The MNLF first launched an attack in the city in 2001 during the so-called Cabatangan siege, where Misuari's followers held residents hostage. The rebels were allowed to escape in exchange for the safety of the hostages. They left the city aboard government vessels.
The same thing happened last year, in September. Misuari followers led by Commander Habier Malik attacked coastal barangays and held up to 200 residents hostage. Malik wanted a Cabatangan solution where they would be allowed to escape again in exchange for the safety of the hostages, but the local government was against it.
The standoff lasted for 3 weeks, killing 25 government troops, 13 civilians, and 153 MNLF fighters. Over 122,000 persons were displaced, based on Zamboanga City statistics. Nearly 10,000 houses were totally burned down.
Climaco said city residents remain threatened by the MNLF. "The MNLF's continuous threats [are] still being prevalent through text messages and text scare," she said.
To this day, there are at least 10 evacuations centers in the city with over 26,000 evacuees. – Rappler.com