The Philippine Army’s 1st Infantry Division has recognized the bravery of its soldiers who died defending Zamboanga City from separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels in three weeks of street battles that killed and wounded over 400 people.
Troops clashed with rebels under MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari who stormed several villages on September 9. “As the smoke of standoff subsides, different acts of heroism emerged to tell their own story in the historic defense of Zamboanga City against organize threat groups under Nur Misuari. But two members of 1st Infantry Division will no longer tell their stories to their families and friends. They were among those killed during the crisis,” said Brig. Gen. Felicito Virgilio Trinidad Jr., the Division commander.
He said 33 of 192 soldiers wounded in the clashes are also under the Division
The two slain soldiers—Pfc. Julmuin Abdulahid and Cpl. Hakim Jaafar—both from the 32 Infantry Battalion, were former MNLF rebels who were integrated in the military after the signing of the 1996 peace accord with the government.
Abdulahid was a native of Indanan town while Jaafar was from Parang town, all in Sulu province.
Abdulahid was killed when the fighting erupted in Santa Barbara village while Jaafar was slain on September 30 in the same area while defending the village from the rebels.
Trinidad said he sympathized not only to the bereaved families of the two fallen troopers, but also of other soldiers.
“Before, they were among our brothers who took arms against the state, now they are heroes defending our state. They were true to their oath of loyalty to the Philippine Flag. The Division was very lucky having them, they are warriors and heroes, and they will never be forgotten,” he said.
The fighting forced over 100,000 people to flee their homes.
The Mindanao Bishop Conference is also planning a fact-finding mission in Zamboanga City. Bishop Delfin Callao Jr., convener of the Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao and chairman of the Mindanao Bishops Conference of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, said the mission aims to “thresh out the truth from the war propaganda which was usually tilted towards the Aquino government.”
“It is time to ferret out the truth and rehabilitate the victims of the all-out offensives,” Callao said.
He said they are also coordinating with humanitarian aid groups in conducting solidarity and mercy missions to Zamboanga City. “Justice and restitution is owed to the people of Zamboanga City and Mindanao,” Callao said, adding they will seriously assess the statement of peace advocate Grace Rebollos that the government scored a “pyrrhic victory” in the Zamboanga conflict.
“There should be an independent assessment of the costs of the all-out offensives and the AFP should be accountable for the use of taxpayers’ money. They cannot simply waste money like they have a cache of military pork barrel,” Callao said.
Instead of political negotiation which is closer to the ‘straight path’, the Aquino government intentionally took the ‘warpath’ in the Zamboanga crisis. “Aquino’s war has clearly led to a bigger problem than its intended outcome,” Callao said. “What is clear for now is the AFP’s military victory. But we doubt if the government scored a political victory after the smoke has cleared. In fact, it has merely succeeded in further deepening the wound in the Mindanao peace process and in the Moro people’s quest for the right to self-determination.”
He said they will document violations to human rights and international humanitarian law and submit their report to churches, the human rights and peace committees of the House of Representatives, and international human rights and peace bodies. He said the MNLF “will also have to be accountable if found violating international humanitarian law and if its actions are deemed as military adventurism.”
Callao said he observed that ‘hawks in government’ have always swayed state responses to armed revolutionary movements towards militarist solutions. “As history points out, all-out war approaches have failed to bring about peace. There is silence in the front in Zamboanga now. But that does not mean peace has been achieved,” he said. AL JACINTO