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 a three-week siege that killed and wounded over 400 people.
“As the smoke of standoff subsides, different acts of heroism emerged to tell their own story in the historic defense of Zamboanga City against organized 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 Division commander Brig. Gen. Felicito Virgilio Trinidad Jr.
He added that 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 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 with the bereaved families of the two fallen troopers, but also with the other soldiers.
“In the past, they were among our brothers who took arms against the state. But now they are heroes who have shown loyalty to the Philippine Flag. The Division was very lucky to have them; they are warriors and heroes, and they will never be forgotten,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Mindanao Bishop Conference is also planning on 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 that they will seriously assess the statement of peace advocate Grace Rebollos that the government scored a “Pyrrhic victory.”
“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.
“Aquino’s war has clearly led to a bigger problem than its intended outcome,” the bishop added.
He said they would 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 also maintained that the MNLF “will also have to be accountable if [they have been]found violating international humanitarian law and if their actions are deemed as military adventurism.”
According to Callao, ‘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 Zamboanga now. But that does not mean peace has been achieved,” he said.