Zamboanga City was jolted by firefight and chaos on Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, when secessionist followers of Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forced their entry into the city wanting to raise their Bangsamoro flag at the Zamboanga City Hall.
This daring adventurism of around 200-300 rebels who entered through the coastal villages of Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara, Rio Hondo, and Talon-Talon resulted, reportedly, to have cost the lives of one Navy Special Forces personnel and four civilians while six other Navy men, including an officer, and 14 civilians were wounded in the firefight.
Video footage also showed that hostages were bunch together by a rope that encircled them, which could have been done to turn the captives to human shields so government forces won’t be forced to attack.
As I write, the standoff continues disrupting all forms of travel, in and out of the city, thus, making the city itself a ghost town.
Could this unfortunate incident, whose main purpose is simply to derail the peace framework agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), have been avoided?
I think the answer is yes, but only if the armed forces, the national police and all the other government agencies tasked to secure the peace and order in our cities, especially those in Mindanao area, got their acts together and connected all the dots of their intelligence units, because, after all, what more ominous signs will you be looking for when the aging Misuari, himself, who has nothing but disdain over the government’s existing peace accord with the MILF, declared only last August 12 the independent state of the Bangsamoro Republik in Talipao, Sulu.
Note that Misuari has been bad-mouthing the government-MILF peace talks, insisting instead on the full implementation of the 1996 comprehensive peace agreement between the Ramos presidency and his MNLF, which became the reason for the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with him as governor for a good number of years.
But, nothing really concrete came out of it despite authority, power and trust given him for peace and socioeconomic development in the region.
On the contrary, the ARMM funds intended for development projects only pampered him as he satisfied his whims and caprices with the enormous amount of money poured into the region. It was said that whenever Misuari traveled to Manila, he brought with him a virtual battalion of armed followers, often renting entire floors of five-star hotels in Makati City.
Instead of seizing the opportunity for greatness and posterity, Misuari chose smugness and notoriety, when in 2001, and while still the ARMM governor, he led 600 rebels in attacking a military camp in Barangay Busbus, Jolo town, Sulu province, that resulted in the death of more than 100 people and the wounding of many others. He said the attack was meant to stop the ARMM elections because the national government did not consult him on the process. He fled to Malaysia to evade arrest, but Malaysian police arrested him later that year in Sabah.
In 2007 the government ordered Misuari arrested on charges of terrorism, but he was later acquitted by the court after the prosecution failed to show evidence to convict him and his co-accused.
Thus, the Malaysian-brokered peace negotiation with the MILF ensued, with Misuari already a non-entity, which came out more fruitful and promising that culminated to the signing of a preliminary peace deal in October last year, which will establish a new autonomous region for the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao.
For the MILF, a splinter group of Misuari’s original MNLF, having signed the historic framework agreement with government that would form a new political entity to replace Misuari’s ARMM is too much for the aging secessionist leader to stomach.
Too bad arrogance and narcissism continues to corrupt the character of Misuari. More than being part of the solution for having peace in Mindanao, he has become the biggest threat to peace.
Time has passed him. Misuari has to realize that the Christian-Muslim conflict is better resolved at the negotiating table rather than on battlefields.
Now he has to face the consequences and I hope government forces will find him and make him answerable for his contemptible actions and for bedeviling President Benigno Aquino’s government in their serious quest for lasting peace in Mindanao.