MANILA, SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 (MANILA STANDARD) By Joyce Pangco Panares - AQUINO Vows to stop new MNLF attacks, leaves Zambo City amid unresolved standoff

President Benigno Aquino III said the government will file charges against Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari as it now has witnesses directly linking him to the 15-day hostage crisis in Zamboanga City.

The President also said that the military and the intelligence community would work even harder to ensure that a similar attack would be quickly thwarted.

“We do not want this to happen again, but if ever there is another threat, our security forces are always ready,” he said.

Back to Manila. President Benigno Aquino III boards his plane for Manila after staying for 10 days in Zamboanga City to supervise the operation against the MNLF rebels. He is shown below with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces Chief Emmanuel Bautista, National Police Chief Alan Purisima, and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman while addressing reporters at the Edwin Andrews Base before boarding his plane. Malacañang Photo Bureau

In an earlier interview, Mr. Aquino admitted there was a need to improve the government’s intelligence services to thwart such attacks.

Mr. Aquino also appealed to the public to cooperate with the government, citing reports that preparations for the Zamboanga siege took a year, and that the rebels smuggled their arms into the area.

“My question is: how come the MNLF was able to prepare and no one noticed? Maybe if somebody noticed and immediately informed the authorities, this would not have happened,” Aquino said.

On Sunday, government planes dropped flyers into the MNLF-occupied barangays urging the remaining rebels to surrender.

“Our military is not letting up on their efforts to end the standoff. They have dropped flyers in the areas where they believe some elements of the Nur Misuari-faction of the MNLF are still holding fort,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

She said the flyers called on the MNLF rebels, whom the military believe to be anywhere between 30 to 50, to surrender and end the hostilities.

“So far some have responded to the messages. We hope all of them will,” Valte said without giving any details.

While the clearing operations of the military continue, Aquino said legal action against Misuari will soon begin.

“We will prosecute Misuari; we will hold him accountable for this,” said the President in an interview in Zamboanga City before flying back to Manila Sunday afternoon.

“We have witnesses who will directly link him to this conflict. Our Department of Justice is now preparing the case, and we have additional prosecutors who will focus on this case,” added Aquino who stayed in strife-torn city for the 10 days.

The government has already urged citizens to send aid for more than 100,000 people who had fled the heavy fighting between troops and MNLF rebels, calling their plight a “humanitarian crisis.”

The standoff has claimed more than 100 lives since hundreds of MNLF rebels invaded the key trading center of Zamboanga, sending 118,000 to take refuge in 57 evacuation centers while forcing 188,000 students out of school.

Aquino said two of Misuari’s demands were impossible to meet – one is for the expansion of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao without a plebiscite and only through the review process of the 1996 final peace agreement and the other is for Misuari to head ARMM.

When the Organic Act was passed, a plebiscite was held in 13 provinces that would have formed the ARMM territory, but only five provinces and one city agreed to be included.

“If the end point for him to be satisfied is to get all 13, under a regional government of which he will head, how can I force that on anybody?” the President said.

“If that is his bargaining position or negotiating position, that is not doable,” Aquino added.

Last week, Aquino said the evidence against Misuari as having masterminded the Zamboanga siege was getting stronger with the aborted tripartite review process in Jogjakarta, Indonesia.

Aquino noted that Misuari was supposed to be among the MNLF leaders who would attend the meeting in Indonesia, which was postponed due to the hostilities in Zamboanga City.

The Sept. 16 Jogjakarta tripartite review would have provided a venue to hear the government’s proposal to terminate the review process on the 1996 final peace agreement with the MNLF and the MNLF’s counterproposal.

The termination of the review process, along with the planned abolition of the ARMM which is a product of the 1996 final peace agreement, triggered the Zamboanga hostage standoff.

The ARMM will be replaced by the Bangsamoro – a new political entity that would be created once a comprehensive peace agreement is signed between the government and the MNLF’s rival, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The MNLF said they have been left out of the peace process, but the Palace said Misuari turned down an invitation to join the Transition Commission that would draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

‘Siege an act of terror’ By Joyce Pangco Panares | Posted on September 19, 2013 at 12:01am | 1,363 views

But govt still unclear on charges to file against Nur, troops

The attacks on Zamboanga City by Moro National Liberation Front rebels led by Nur Misuari was an act of terror, not rebellion, the government told the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

“I told the OIC that what was done in Zamboanga City — the use of human shields — is not rebellion but an act of terror,” presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles said in a television interview Wednesday. “They have terrorized communities, and even barangays beyond Zamboanga City have been affected. The image of the whole country is now under question.”

Life goes on. Residents affected by the standoff between the military and MNLF rebels in Zamboanga City rest at their makeshift shelters at an evacuation center along a sea wall. Below, evacuees wash at an evacuation center inside a sports complex. Inset, evacuees dry clothes and rest at an evacuation center near a sports complex. AFP

Deles said she spoke with MNLF commander Habier Malik on Monday and was told the standoff would only be resolved if she communicated with Misuari.

But Malik did not give her Misuari’s number, nor did he take further calls from Deles.

Deles said Misuari had command responsibility for the loss of lives and property in the Zamboanga attack.

“Malik is a loyal commander of Misuari. And you can’t have peace where you can’t enforce the rule of law. The OIC also recognized that,” Deles said.

“You can’t have an incident like this and not hold them accountable. That is not just possible,” she said.

Police on Wednesday said they were building the case against Misuari and his loyalists even though Zamboanga has not been cleared of Moro rebels.

Deputy Chief for Operations Police Director Felipe Rojas Jr. said they have tapped the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group to coordinate with the Justice Department to conduct a thorough investigation to determine what charges can be filed in court.

Rojas said government forces have further constricted the space controlled by the MNLF rebels as government forces intensified further attacks against their positions.

He told a radio interview the rebels held on to only one or two barangays.

Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr., spokesman of the Armed Forces, said what Misuari and his men did against the people of Zamboanga City could be a violation of Republic Act 9851 or the International Humanitarian Law Act.

They could also be liable for terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Law.

The spokesmen of Misuari, lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla and Absalom Cervesa, have said the MNLF was in the city to fight their “war for independence,” even though Zamboanga is not part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Earlier, Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar made it clear to Misuari and his men that their city was not a part of the ARMM and the people there would never agree to be part of it.

The military said the number of MNLF fatalities has climbed to 81 as the city enters its 10th day of crisis. The government side has suffered more than a dozen dead and hundreds more wounded. Scores of civilians have also been killed or wounded by stray bullets.

More than a thousand houses, buildings, and stores have been torched by the rebels in the barangays that were overrun by the MNLF forces.

At the start of their attacks, the rebels also took 200 civilian hostages as “human shields”.

Authorities said they have freed over 150 hostages, some of whom escaped in the middle of fighting.

About 109,000 people have fled their homes since the fighting started and some 188,000 students have been affected by the suspension of classes.

The government on Wednesday said it tried but failed to get the MNLF to work with the rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the crafting of the Bangsamoro, a new political entity aimed at replacing the ARMM.

The creation of the Bangsamoro, and the government’s prposal to end the review process for the 1996 peace agreement with the MNLF, triggered the 10-day hostage standoff in Zamboanga City.

In a statement from Kuala Lumpur where negotiations with the MILF are ongoing, government peace panel member Mehol Sadain flatly denied the statement of MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari that they have been disregarded in the peace process.

“We never neglected the aspirations of the Moro National Liberation Front,” Sadain, a Zamboanga-raised Tausug, said.

“The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the panel have actually tried to involve them by initiating a means of convergence between the MNLF and the MILF. This is not, however, within our powers, to force them together, because that is to be arranged between the two of them,” he added.

Fellow panel member Yasmin Busran Lao said the government invited the MNLF, specifically Misuari and Muslimin Sema, to nominate representatives to the Transition Commission, which will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

“Unfortunately they did not recommend anyone. The forming of the Transition Commission was intended to converge all of Bangsamoro to come up with a basic law that will address everyone’s needs, and not just one group,” Lao said.

As fighting entered its 10th day in Zamboanga City, Muslims in Metro Manila appealed to President Benigno Aquino III to end the stand-off.

“We Muslims at the National Capital Region are saddened by the armed attack happening in Zamboanga right now. Almost one-half of the region is already a ghost town. The local economy is directly affected,” said Datu Basher Alonto, chairman of the Metro Manila Community for Justice. – With Florante Solmerin and Rio N. Araja

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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