MANILA – A spokesperson for the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on Friday said the group’s founding chairman, Nur Misuari, did not disown the actions of his top lieutenant Ustadz Habier Malik in the ongoing siege in Zamboanga City.
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco on Thursday said Misuari disowned the actions of Malik after her talk with the MNLF founding chairman.
“Last night I was able to talk to Chairman Nur Misuari hoping that it would pave the way for the peaceful end of this crisis. What is of interest is that, Misuari disowned the actions of Habier Malik, the leader of the hostage-takers,” Climaco said.
“I expressed my openness to continue communication with Misuari as well as Malik to find peaceful resolution of this conflict,” she added.
Malik is allegedly leading the MNLF men in Zamboanga City who have held hostage at least 170 civilians.
But Misuari spokesman Absalom Cerveza said the MNLF leader was “misinterpreted” by the city mayor.
“Mali po iyan. Hindi totoo yan. I talked to him (Misuari) about 12 o’ clock last night and confronted him with this issue. Sinabi niya: ‘I have never disowned Malik. I was only misinterpreted because I was saying that because of my distance from the activity, I have left some decision – iniwan ko doon sa kanya, sa aming ground commander,'” Cerveza told dzMM.
“Hindi lang naintidihan ni Mayor ng maigi ang kanilang pinag-uusapan. They played on this issue. It is obvious, hindi naman pwedeng mag-ano si Malik without the blessing of the chairman.”
MNLF is at war
Cerveza said the MNLF rebels went to Zamboanga City with only one objective: to pursue Bangsamoro independence from the Philippine government.
The standoff began about a month after Misuari declared independence for Mindanao, Palawan and parts of Malaysia.
The declaration of independence was triggered by what the group believes is the government’s abandonment of tripartite review of the 1996 final peace agreement in favor of holding peace talks with an MNLF breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
At least 13,000 Zamboanga residents have already fled their homes as the fighting continues. The standoff has left at least 12 dead.
Cerveza said the group has two options to achieve independence. The first option is to have the United Nations intervene, while the second is to go to war.
“If you win in the war, you gain your independence. It happened that nangyari itong MNLF followed this track (war) to gain independence,” he said.
The Misuari spokesman added that “in times of war, the dividing lines between the Muslim peoples are erased,” as bandits from Abu Sayyaf Group and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters joined MNLF rebels during an attack in Basilan on Thursday.
Despite the ongoing conflict, Cerveza said it is not yet too late for the government to open the doors for renewed talks with the group, admitting that the government is a much superior force.
“It is up to this government to respond. If they will respond with force, wala tayong magagawa. But if they will gather all their genius to think and come up with some proposal, makikinig kami,” he said.
The group is currently holding some 170 civilians hostage, but Cerveza assured that the rebels will not do harm to their hostages.
“It is the wanton firing of the military that has hit the civilians… Civilians are not supposed to be hurt… It is the very strict instructions of the chairman to spare the civlians, women, the aged, sick, from being hurt,” he said.
Although Misuari has given his commanders on the ground a free hand in making decisions, Cerveza said the founding chairman has not yet authorized his men to hold negotiations with the government side.
A Philippine Daily Inquirer report earlier said that a certain Maid Ajirin, leader of the rebel group in Talon-Talon village, held talks with government and military officials.
The talks, however, reportedly did not end up in an agreement.
Cerveza said he has yet to confirm a report that about 80 MNLF rebels have surrendered to the government.
By Dharel Placido, ABS-CBNnews.com