CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY — The Zamboanga City siege that lasted for 19 days in September 2013 could have been prevented had President Benigno Aquino III pursued talks for the final implementation of the 1996 peace accord with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), an MNLF official said yesterday.
A total of 38 people consisting of 20 soldiers, five policemen and 13 civilians were killed during the siege.
The battle between state forces and MNLF rebels also displaced 100,000 city residents.
Emmanuel Fontanilla, MNLF spokesman, in an interview with Daily Tribune, said in March 2013 the government and MNLF peace panels were in the final stage of resolving the remaining contentious issues in the agreement when the government panel issued a notice terminating the peace talks.
“After the government panel walked out from the negotiating table, the MNLF had no option but to pursue its original political objective, which is declaring the independence of the Bangsa Moro Republik (BMR),” he said.
The MNLF has declared Davao the capital of BMR in its petition with the United Nations (UN), which recognizes the granting of independence to all colonized countries, Fontanilla added.
During the proclamation of independence in July 2013, MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari declared Mindanao, Palawan, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan, including the Malaysian island of Sabah and Sarawak, as part of the BMR territory.
Noynoy plays general
After hoisting its flag in Davao City, the next stop would have been Zamboanga City, but government forces thwarted the MNLF mission after it intercepted a pump boat loaded with 30 MNLF guerillas. The battle ensued afterwards.
“After terminating the peace talks, Aquino then ordered an all-out war against the MNLF in Zamboanga city using military air, land and sea assets,” he said.
At the height of the fighting, Aquino was sighted in full combat gear as if leading the troops in the operation.
According to an MNLF source, Aquino also set up a “war room” where he personally directed troop movements using a computer.
The MNLF declaration of independence gained the attention of the international community, particularly the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which closely watches political developments in Mindanao.
Nur gives way
The OIC has granted the MNLF a permanent observer status during plenary sessions and also recognized Misuari as the sole representative of Muslim Mindanao.
Misuari, however, ordered the shelving of MNLF’s independence petition to pave the move by President Duterte for the shift of the form of government from a unitary to a federal set up, which the secessionist group fully supports.
“No more political activities related to the independence and the petition to the UN happened,” Fontanilla said.
He added the MNLF peace panel is again ready for the resumption of the stalled peace talk for the full implementation of the 1996 peace agreement abandoned by Aquino.
Fontanilla said they are waiting to be notified by the Office of the Presidential Peace Adviser for the resumption of the discussions.
Earlier, President Duterte announced his willingness for a new round of talks with Misuari to prevent the “dismemberment” of the country.
“With the appointment of retired general Carlito Galvez as the new peace adviser, we are optimistic that the MNLF and government panels will soon return to the negotiating table,” he said.