How convenient is a war to souse the burning pork barrel issue that fracked the heads of a sitting President and his enabler that he could invite armed enemies – supposedly a dormant force – to flatten a beautiful city and cover their plunder of the nation’s wealth, albeit momentarily?
Easy it was proven by former President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III, especially because that conflict was aimed at saving his neck and that of former Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas that they needed less than a month to make one and make it drag for long.
Yet, the Zamboanga siege of 2013 by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) failed to pan out as it was intended.
What it did was terminate government peace talks with the Muslim rebels and war escalated with the MNLF laying siege to Zamboanga City, a first-class highly urbanized locality that the rebels, confused as they were themselves, enveloped the community for 19 days and displaced more than 100,000 people.
More than 300 were killed during the standoff between the rebel forces and the Philippine military.
But MNLF spokesman and lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla said the fighting could have been averted had Aquino and Roxas not used the MNLF to squid-ink the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) scam that was bugging the leadership then.
The PDAF was the renamed pork barrel fund which was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
“President Aquino was aware of the looming PDAF scandal,” Fontanilla said. “So, (he and Roxas) needed a scapegoat and that was the Zamboanga City siege to divert the public’s attention from the PDAF scam.”
According to Fontanilla, Aquino and Roxas have been wracking their brains for solutions to the pork barrel mess they have created, with Roxas even staging the supposed “surrender” by PDAF scam queen Janet Lim Napoles in Malacañang.
It was later revealed and Roxas had admitted to serving as Napoles’ driver on their way to the Palace where the narrative of her supposed surrender to Aquino was plotted.
Later information bared that Roxas came to pick up Napoles at an agreed place – at the Heritage Park, a cemetery in Taguig City – before he brought Napoles to Aquino in Malacañang. Once there, Aquino and Roxas’ group designed their media statements to make it appear Napoles surrendered, not before law enforcement authorities, but at the Palace.
Fontanilla said Aquino and Roxas “needed a big media event” to overshadow the PDAF mess.
The MNLF, he said, was holding a “peace caravan” when it was intercepted by the military.
The fighting ceased only after government allowed the “safe passage” of MNLF fighters back to their provincial camps and out of Zamboanga City.
Napoles saw Aquino at 9:08 p.m. of 28 August 2013, a Wednesday, accompanied by her lawyer and another woman who carried her belongings. They were escorted by Roxas no less.
The PDAF scam was among the many issues that led to the disintegration of Aquino’s once vaunted political strength. He anointed Roxas to become his successor, but their partnership, which included failed operations to save foreign tourists from a hostage taker, the lives of the 44 Special Action Force members trapped and killed in a religious extremist stronghold and those of the victims of the super typhoon “Yolanda,” also doomed Roxas’ presidential bid.
Roxas is seeking to return to the Senate in May’s midterm polls.
Less than a month after Napoles’ supposed surrender, the MNLF faction of Ustadz Habier Malik and Khaid Ajibon, who were still loyal to MNLF chairman Nur Misuari, attempted to raise their flag and proclaim independence for a “Bangsamoro Republik” at the Zamboanga City Hall.
What followed was a series of firefights and bombings that the United Nations described as a humanitarian crisis.