Aquino rejected truce offers, prolonged crisis

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Second of Two Parts

On its 19th day today, the Zamboanga crisis, which resulted in the death of over a hundred people and untold suffering to 100,000 residents, could have been resolved much earlier if not for President Aquino’s pigheaded “surrender-or-die” mentality.

On the fifth day of the crisis, on September 13, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters released Catholic priest Michael Ufana, one of its hostages, timed when Aquino arrived in Zamboanga.

MNLF Commander Malik (in desert camouflage): Dead or alive, a winner in the Zamboanga crisis

MNLF Commander Malik (in desert camouflage): Dead or alive, a winner in the Zamboanga crisis

Fr. Ufana would disclose later that the MNLF released him to deliver the message to the President that they would release all hostages if they were given safe passage out of Zamboanga.


That the offer was serious, and that it was the official MNLF stance, was demonstrated by the fact that the insurgents’ chairman Nur Misuari the next day made the offer through Vice President Jejomar Binay. The two had been friends during their UP college days in the late 1960s, a fact that encouraged Misuari to make the offer through Binay.

Aquino and his officials flatly rejected the offer, with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin arrogantly telling the Vice President: “Tell them to lay down their arms and we’ll talk.” Gazmin couldn’t have been ignorant of that old saying well known among our military with combat experience in the Mindanao that a Moro fighter would give up everything except his arms.

Worse, and shamefully for a priest, Zamboanga archdiocese administrator Monsignor Crisologo Manongas echoed Gazmin’s belligerence when Ufana told him of the offer:

“They should surrender first, then talk later. We agree to the President’s position.” Coming from a Catholic priest, that injected a dangerous religious element to the crisis.

But Aquino who obviously enjoyed, at least for ten days, playing the role of a commander in the frontlines, wanted the “enemy” crushed and would have nothing of the MNLF’s formula for ending the crisis.

However, the granting of safe passage is nearly a standard procedure in hostage situations, as this prevents the hostage-takers from feeling trapped that they would massacre the hostages and die in the firefight.

More importantly, it gives the authorities the opportunity to prepare for the new arena of combat, which they can meticulously prepare for, to the disadvantage of the hostage-takers.

For instance, when four Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF) fighters hijacked in 1985 the cruise ship Achille Lauro off Egypt, they demanded safe conduct to Tunisia in exchange for releasing their hostages. After the hostages were released, they were allowed to board an Egyptian plane to fly them to Tunis. On route though, the plane was intercepted by US jet fighters and forced to land in Sicily, where the hostage takers were captured.

In the Zamboanga siege, it wouldn’t have required brilliant military strategy to get the MNLF fighters to release their hostages and allow them to leave Zamboanga by pump-boats provided by their comrades—and then have the Navy interdict them at sea on their way to Sulu.

But even if it did not capture the MNLF raiders, the government could claim that despite their raid on Zamboanga, it is still offering peace to the MNLF, and their fighters’ safe passage was its gesture of goodwill.

There is an important reason though why the granting of safe passage to the MNLF fighters would have been an appropriate response to the crisis. Officials of both the MNLF and the government claimed that the insurgents were in Zamboanga neither to attack it nor take hostages.

The MNLF claimed that they went to Zamboanga City merely to hold a peaceful rally—as they did in Davao City a few months back—to express its protest against the government’s agreements with its rival MILF. It claimed that its fighters had no choice but fight back when the military harassed them.

The government in effect had a similar explanation in its claim that many of the MNLF fighters were merely told by their superiors to go to Zamboanga to participate in a rally. The military claimed that when they found out that the real plan was to lay siege on Zamboanga, they had no choice but to follow their commanders’ orders and fight.

While the truth may be somewhere in between, the safe-passage formula would have provided a face-saving reason for the MNLF fighters to march out of Zamboanga.

But no, we have a commander-in-chief who even taunted the Muslim fighters: “You might want to assess if your life is still valuable, and it’s not yet too late to bring an end to this,” Aquino said September 21.

The MNLF would likely be decimated in the next few days, and Aquino will be claiming total victory. But at such a terrible, steep cost to peace in Mindanao. Aquino’s hard-line stance in Zamboanga has slammed the door to any peace talks with the MNLF.

Instead of being portrayed as a band of marauding Moros invading a peaceful Christian area, the 200 odd MNLF fighters fending off four infantry and Scout Ranger battalions, a dozen armored personnel carriers and tanks, and three helicopter gunships for nearly three weeks have entered the realm of Moro martial lore as heroic “mujahideens” (holy warriors).

MNLF propaganda in fact has focused on claiming that its men were asking to leave Zamboanga but that the military wanted them to surrender or be killed instead, so that they have heroically fought back. That will certainly rouse Moros’ ire and rally to the MNLF cause. Our military itself has predicted “vengeance” attacks by the MNLF, including terrorist bombings in the cities, in other parts of Mindanao.

Rather than a gang of hostage-takers who have killed 12 soldiers and two officers, the MNLF fighters have earned the respect even of our soldiers on the ground, I was told.

The Zamboanga commander, Habier Malik, is becoming an MNLF hero that even Amina Rasul, a respected commentator on Muslim affairs, warned in a television interview that if Malik is killed, “he becomes a mujahideen martyr” who would inspire more Moro warriors to fight the government. On the other hand, if Malik escapes the military dragnet, he would be catapulted to the pantheon of Moro legendary warriors, inspiring the MNLF fighters. Dead or alive in Zamboanga, Malik and the MNLF win.

Some Muslims sympathetic to the MNLF are even rejoicing that at last another leader—Malik—has emerged to replace the aging Misuari. Malik would have the qualifications to lead the MNLF. Not only is he a capable military commander, but he is also a Muslim cleric and a scholar who had his Islamic education in the King Saud University in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s.

Even a former Air Force officer, Nick Sotelo, who is with a group of former and active militarymen who call themselves “Defenders of Philippine Sovereignty” wrote in the group’s website:

“The measly band of 200 MNLF fighters I would say has balls of steel knowing that they will be martyred when coming into a hornet’s nest. They may be the perceived enemy, but I salute them for standing up to their principles, however flawed they may seem to our eyes. They who have nothing to lose, are to be feared the most!”

After the Zamboanga siege, the MNLF itself now has nothing to lose.

tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
www.rigobertotiglao.com and www.trigger.ph

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12 Comments

  1. The reason why we have two ears is for humans to listen both sides so that your mind can weight things equally not differently.

    The decision of the President is imbalance the same as how he handled the recent Sabah Clash, whose roots was due to the on-going negotiation of the Philippine government to one muslim group only.

    He do not understand what is Mindanao and the muslims. He needs to study our roots so he will understand the entire people and not only his.

  2. I guess the presidents decision was right. if we keep on negotiating with these thugs when they are trapped. this violence would not end. we must not negotiate to a group of people who do not recognize our constitution and be considered as enemy of the state.
    take sri lanka as an example they gave the tamil tigers an ultimatum, an all out war…. and there was PEACE.

  3. Ricardo Atencia on

    It is unfortunate that all the words of the enemies of the state are still being believed, even by the messenger priest.

    How could it be believable? First, if that was a peaceful rally, why have those weapons? Second, why encourage the repeat of the Cabatangan saga where hostage takers were scot-freed? If this cycle keeps on repeating, there will be mockery of the law and the Government will be perceived as mere reactionaries.

    Why trust the VP to arrange for ceasefire, when this momentous decision should be reserved for the highest decision-maker of the land? At times, it is becoming more suspicious if this drama is orchestrated to have a limelight for those who funded this fiasco.

    If those commanders and fighters earned the respect, they are very few who will have that notion. If they have that respect, then they are in the wrong side of those they are respecting.

    How would you respect those who use innocent civilians as shields? Is that honorable, is that courage or show of cowardice? Respect? What a foolish exhortation of lost souls whose aim is destructions and mayhem. Would they pay those houses they burned, those they killed and the effect in the economy and memories of those who lost their love ones.

    A leader who always take the path of violence is not a good leader. A leader who could not get what he wanted, and act like spoiled brat by pulling the trigger is not a true leader. These leaders will only bring more miseries to their followers, destruction and hopelessness.

    They want to leave Zamboanga after they failed to raise their flag, but with arms, and preparation been made likely for several weeks by accumulating weapons and ammos and then release the hostages are all statements of cornered fighters, a
    ll of these were all ploys, knowing perhaps that the Cabatangan could be repeated again, but they failed.

    If the Commander-in-Chief swayed and allowed again another repeat, what do you think this Republic will look like? What you think of the VP usurping the limelight by going the way of the rebels?

    People would not buy that idea that this is a holy war for these rebels to be coined “mujahadins”. Those houses that were burned were both of Muslims and Christian settlers. Is because that they are lead by an ustadz, they become holy warriors?

    If the Government relented, repeat of hostage taking, release etc. etc. will become a vicious circle.

    Heroes or villains? Up to you sir!

  4. “Balls of steels” my ass. The way you describe these terrorists as brave and having balls of steel is a clear indication of your one-sidedness. Paano mo masasabi na matatapang sila eh they’re just hiding behind their hostages. True warriors don’t take hostages as their human shield. Itong mga mnlf ay mga duwag at traidor.

  5. mr Tiglao you don’t understand the Mindanao situation. We Zamboangueños are fed up of all these peace talks & ceasefires. These terrorist had done this several times before & gotten away by ceasefires & safe passages. This time I think the President’s decision not to give in to the demands of these animals should be praised and commended. You people from Luzon needs to understand that to solve this conflict is to ELIMINATE those mnlf (or whatever you call them) terrorists!!

  6. Rosauro Feliciano on

    Which do we people prefer, to give-in to the demand of the rebel in order to let them leave scot-free so civilians would be released to prevent what we may call the “blunders that prolonged Zamboanga City crisis”, or not to give-in resulting to what has happened now and giving the rebels the chances to regroup for more attacks? We have learned bitter lesson from the “MNLF Cabatangan siege” also in Zamboanag City in the early nineteen nineties and so our Commander-in-Chief took that bitter lesson under the circumstances. We heard from military men say that it is better to bleed during training than bleed to dead at war. Yes those who died in this prolonged Zamboanga City crisis did not die in vain because they died for saving more lives of those did not born yet. They are remembered as TRUE MARTYRS because they were truly innocent people who did nothing wrong or even part of the war; a war not of their plan and implementation. We should start each day with a prayer asking HIM for wisdom so we can make discernment in fullness.

  7. This is a reaction to part 2 of Mr Tiglao’s opinion on the Zamboanga Crisis
    1. He is 100% right when he said that the moro will give up everything else except his weapons thus, they were not expected to surrender and lay down their arms as demanded by President Aquino
    2. He forgot that government’s policy is not to negotiate with terrorists
    3. When you have the upper hand, which the government does, you don’t NEGOTIATE FOR PEACE, YOU DEMAND SURRENDER. You demand from a standpoint of superiority and not as an equal of the terrorist because what Mr Tiglao, EPAL Binay and Fidel Ramos all suggest is a surrender of our sovereignty and police power
    4. The MNLF have been spoiled by Cory and Fidel because every time Misuary did a little saber rattling, they readily surrendered to their demands. Look what happened during the 2001 cabatangan incident – the MNLF parading with their hostages, with one blatantly pointing a pistol to the head of a girl and another pointing an m-16 with a rifle grenade at soldiers and onlookers. Were they punished or did the government run after them as suggested in the opinion? No, they were escorted by the PNP to Panubigan and then they settled at the 11 Islands unmolested. Zamboanga does not want a repetition.
    The moros’ frame of mind is first they will ask for your finger. If you capitulate, next they will ask for your hand, then your arm, then your whole body.
    They are a bunch of traitors. During the war from 1973 to the present, they will always sue for peace and ask for a cease fire and peace talk when they are about to be killed so as to survive. Later they buy new weapons with the money they got from the balik baril program and go back to the hills and fight again.
    Did present chief of staff Gen Bautista already forget what Usman Sali did to his father in Patikul? The similar incident in Pata?
    5. Moros will only respect someone who is also strong. If the government shows that it is weak, then they will try to trample it – which they have been trying to do time and again
    6. Mayor Beng and PNoy were right in demanding surrender. If malik’s group want to die then let them.
    7. Amina’s opinion – she is a mora, of course she will side with Malik, just like all those liking the FB site of the MNLF and Musa Cerantonio.

  8. First Good Day to You Sir.About the opinion of safe passage on releasing the hostages may have some similarity to what do you describe us Tunisia Formula is not that us wanting and entirely applicable.We have to look at the number first four hostage taker and more obviously in Philippines than 200 MNLF Second Abdul Malik has house in Zamboanga he is too familiar with the terrain.Third the preposition of the ammo and high powered guns shows that it is carefully plan ahead of time.This makes the situation much harder to understand if they are for peaceful rally or they have other plans.Fourth I dont know how the peace process and some Muslims would look at this considering many hostages are Muslims.The important thing for me is that we should never glorify both sides.In war there is no pure victory everybody is a loser.The important thing is that immediate talks should happen especially the moderate faction of MNLF.Let us talk peace and no other else.Rally,symposium,people to people exchanges.Dialogue.

  9. roberto enriquez on

    The Pres.made the right decision,it was not only his but the whole Zamboanga who did not want to negotiate w/ them because they have done this before.Ariba PNoy!!!

  10. To accept a truce is commendable. But to capitulate to the marauders as if nothing happened is foolish.

    The government has to show resolve to everyone that such adventure is unacceptable and the rule of law must be observed. The MNLF did not take into account that they are violating the laws of the Republic and granting them safe passage without surrendering their arms makes a mockery of what the Republic stands for.

    It’s quite obvious that someone wanted to gain publicity out of a horrible situation. In fact it could safely be assumed that the incursion was a well thought of, calculated move to test the will of the government, probably with the direction and cooperation of those people whose vested interests are primordial to them rather than the general welfare of the people.

    Then Binay went epal, trying to gain publicity at the expense of the government. That, is just so absurd and really illogical to put self interest above the government’s.