Finally, the Zamboanga crisis is over. Habier Malik, the man who fought government troops behind 197 civilian hostages has fled the scene.
Now Nur Misuari, chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), must be called to account. He had issued warning of dire consequences if the government proceeded with the peace agreement with the MNLF rival, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF), and the siege was carried out in his name. There is blood in the man’s hands.
The latest Misuari tantrum resulted in the death of 23 soldiers and policemen and nine civilians. On the MNLF side, 100 were killed and 225 were either captured or had surrendered.
A hundred thousand people have been driven away from their homes.
The loss of lives is regrettable, but the MNLF terrorists—taking innocent people hostage including women and children is an act of terrorism—must take the full blame. Okay, the group is fighting for a cause and, in any case, terrorism is too strong a word. Maybe so, but it is quite a stretch, on the other hand, to blame the government for the tragedy.
It was not right, according to certain quarters, for President Benigno Aquino 3rd to demand unconditional surrender. This hard-line stance gave the MNLF no choice but to fight on, precipitating the humanitarian crisis that Zamboanga is now experiencing.
But the Commander-in-Chief couldn’t have done otherwise.
If Malik and his men had been given a safe-conduct pass, critics say, things would have been different. Do they think the MNLF rebels would leave their hostages behind? It would be more logical to assume that the rebels would have escaped to their jungle redoubt with the hostages in tow.
The government, having been rendered impotent, would be forced to appeal to Misuari, who started the whole tragic episode in the first place, for the release of the hostages. The ageing rebel chieftain would do so only under certain concessions, one of which was the scrapping of the peace agreement.
At the height of the siege, Misuari proclaimed the independence of what he called the Bangsa Moro Republik, with him as president and commander-in-chief.
The proclamation sounded hollow. From 1996 to 2001, Misuari was governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), under an agreement with the government that was endorsed by the Organization of Islamic Conference. His regime was riddled with corruption, not unlike that of his successor, Zaldy Ampatuan.
So bad was the corruption that a number of Misuari’s lieutenants left him to form the MILF. The group has since earned the loyalty of most Muslims, among them Misuari’s own clan: the Tausug.
After his stint as governor, Misuari led a band of MNLF into Zamboanga and engaged government troopers, also using civilians as shields. He was charged with rebellion, but a Makati trial court, (with the encouragement of the government certain quarters believed), handed down a verdict of acquittal “for the prosecution’s failure to present sufficient evidence.”
Then as now innocent civilians died. Yet those who participated in the mayhem were released, after the government secured a pledge from them that they would behave in the future.
If the government had come down hard on Misuari and his men the last time, we would have been spared the trouble.