ZAMBOANGA CITY: The city government here is studying the legal remedies that could be pursued against 59 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels who reportedly participated in the siege of the city last year after the Department of Justice (DOJ) recommended that they be dropped from the list of those charged with rebellion, arson, and other crimes in connection with the attack.
Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar earlier said that she would not allow the suspects behind the attack to go unpunished. She revealed that the City Legal Office has been consulting the City Prosecutor’s Office on the possible remedies that could be pursued against the recommendation of the DOJ.
“As I reiterated before, we stand by the rule of law and we expect our pillars of justice to do what is incumbent upon them. We already conferred with the City Legal Officer lawyer Jesus Carbon and the City Prosecutor Peter Medalle and we will study if we can pursue any remedy,” Climaco-Salazar said.
The City Legal Office is expected to file a motion for reconsideration with the DOJ soon.
Residents of the city, meanwhile, did not take lightly the reports that the charges against some MNLF rebels might be dropped. They trooped to radio stations expressing disgust over the DOJ recommendation.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima reportedly said earlier that the DOJ issued the recommendation after the Pasig court handling the rebellion case against members of the MNLF ordered the prosecution to undertake a reinvestigation of the criminal complaint against 59 out of the 279 accused.
In a television interview, De Lima said, “Sa tingin ng court may mga akusado na hindi na-establish ang role [the court believes that there are several accused whose roles behind the siege were not established].”
The Justice Secretary, however, clarified that MNLF chairperson Nur Misuari, who is accused as the brains behind the attack, is still among those facing charges of rebellion and violation of the Philippine Act on Crimes against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes against Humanity which were filed in two batches in October and December last year.
Moreover, charges against some of Misuari’s cohorts, including his top commander, Khabir Malik, were filed on October 7 at the Zamboanga City Regional Trial Court. Some of them, however, remain at large.
Climaco-Salazar, meanwhile, continued to blame the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process (OPAPP) for the siege.
She explained that MNLF forces launched the siege because the group felt alienated from the peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government despite the existence of a peace accord between the government and the MNLF.
“I still hold them (OPAPP) accountable. Looking at the situation, the OPPAP should really intensify its tasks and mission because I cannot give what Chairman Nur Misuari was asking me (and that is) to (fully) implement the 1996 peace accord (with the MNLF),” the mayor said.
Climaco-Salazar also said OPAPP ignored the local government’s request for guidance on how to deal with the MNLF.
“We already aired our request for guidance from [the]national government [on]how to deal with the MNLF if ever they are seen in the city in uniform. But sad to know that from the time that we asked that question way back in July (2013) up to [the time of]the siege, there was no guidance and response. The accountability of this agency (OPAPP) should be responsive to the peace process and [it]should have done its task in guiding local government units on how to react and what to do,” she said.
The DOJ said the attack on Zamboanga resulted in several casualties and extensive damage, particularly in the villages of Mariki, Rio Hondo, Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina, Kasanyangan, Talon-Talon and Mampang.
Misuari and a number of MNLF fighters were charged with rebellion for taking up arms and attacking government security forces and civilians, and by committing “acts of murder, pillage, disorder, looting, arson, and destruction of private and public properties.”
They were also charged for acts of violence against residents who did not participate in the armed hostilities and for taking non-combatant civilians as hostages during the fighting.