ZAMBOANGA CITY – They were waving white flags and crying for a cease-fire in the middle or a road. Many were screaming as shots rang out, followed by a volley of automatic gunfire. Voices can be heard telling a group of civilians to stay put and later telling them to hit the ground as the shooting intensified.
Those were the scenes from a 3-minute video clip of a street battle between security forces and separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels who had taken more than more than 200 civilians and in Zamboanga City in September.
The video was posted on the social networking site Facebook.
But while the hostages, numbering about three dozen, were pleading to security forces for a cease-fire, one rebel, clad in military uniform, was also spotted hiding among the group of civilians who continued waving white flags. Other rebels were hiding inside buildings as the video – probably from a cell phone camera – recorded the shootings outside.
“Huwag, huwag doon kayo. Huwag kayong umalis. Diyan kayo, huwag kayong umalis (Stay put, stay put),” a voice can be heard as telling the hostages, some of them minors and women, who were trying to run for cover.
The hostages were forced to hide behind a jeep, some crawling on their stomach to avoid the bullets fired by government troops positioned from the end of the road. The captives continue to wave their white flags and shouting “cease-fire, cease-fire,” but the deafening sounds of gunfire drowned their screams.
The rebel, who was hiding among the hostages, ran in a building where his group was hiding. On the road, slippers and bags of clothes of the hostages were scattered and captives were crying, screaming and begging for the firing to stop.
Some of the captives were shouting “cell phone, cell phone, please tawagan ninyo sir,” apparently appealing to rebels to phone security forces and tell them that they were firing on civilian hostages.
One rebel ordered the hostages to stay on the ground. The rebels were talking among themselves in their local dialect, Tausug. One rebel fired his bazooka at the position of government troops, where the firing was emanating.
It was not known if any of the hostages were killed in the shooting, but the whole three-minute scene in the video showed the safety and lives of the civilians were put on the line.
The video offered a glimpse into what took place during three weeks of street battles in Zamboanga, where over 400 people were either killed or wounded. More than 100,000 people fled their homes and sought refuge in temporary shelters as war ravaged their villages.
Hundreds of rebels from the provinces of Basilan and Sulu and Zamboanga peninsula led by Ustadz Khabir Malik stormed Zamboanga after their leader Nur Misuari, who signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996, accused President Benigno Aquino 3rd of reneging on the accord.
Malik slipped through a military dragnet in Zamboanga, while Misuari has gone into hiding.
Close to 300 rebels have surrendered or been captured, and more than 200 hostages have been freed or escaped.
Prior to the Zamboanga attack, police in the Muslim autonomous region has said they were gathering evidence to charge Misuari of sedition because of his fiery statements in public meetings and pronouncement against the Aquino government.
Representative Lilia Nuno, of Zamboanga City, has filed a resolution in Congress to conduct an official inquiry into the atrocious rebel attack.
Two other lawmakers – Carlos Zarate and Neri Colmenares – also filed a resolution to investigate the government’s decision to close the tripartite review of the 1996 agreement with the MNLF.
In House Resolution 302 directing the Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, the two lawmakers said MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla confirmed that rebel forces attacks Zamboanga City in response to the government’s termination of the tripartite review of the peace deal and to defend Misuari from arrest following his declaration of a Bangsamoro Republik.
Zarate and Colmenares said President Aquino applied a “divide and rule” tactic by pursuing negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and at the same time disregarding the MNLF accord.
In August, a group of senior MNLF leaders passed a resolution asking the Aquino government to recall its note verbales with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for the closure of the tripartite review of the peace accord. It was signed by signed by Abebakrin Lukman and Abuamri Tadik, both acting secretaries of the MNLF Senior Leaders’ Forum and attested by Yusop Jikiri, its presiding chairman.
The former rebel leaders said they would support the peace process if the Aquino government agreed to recall two diplomatic communications sent by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on January 30 and March 21 this year.
The two diplomatic communications also sparked widespread condemnation from Misuari, who repeatedly threatened to secede after accusing Manila of failing to honor provisions of the peace deal.
The OIC helped broker the 1996 peace deal between the MNLF and the Philippines. Misuari said it has been three decades since the OIC mediated in the peace talks, but Manila has failed to comply with the provisions in the accord.
The Muslim homeland would replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which is composed of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao provinces, and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan. Several areas in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato would be added to the new autonomous region.
Misuari eventually became the governor of autonomous region. But many former rebels were disgruntled with the accord, saying, the government failed to develop the war-torn areas in the South, which remains in mired in poverty, heavily militarized and dependent financially on the national government.
In November 2001, on the eve of the ARMM elections, Misuari again accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement, and his followers launched a new rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga City, where more than 100 people were killed.
Misuari escaped by boat to Malaysia, but was arrested there and deported to the Philippines. He was eventually freed in 2008 after Manila dropped all charges against him for lack of sufficient evidence.