ZAMBOANGA CITY Mayor Beng Climaco has ordered authorities to stay on alert and prevent any Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) mass action in the city following a recent call for ‘plenum’ by its leader, Nur Misuari, in Sulu province.
Climaco met with senior police and military officials to draw up security measures for the city, which had been attacked twice by MNLF rebels despite a peace accord with the government in September 1996.
Security forces have been alerted against some individuals who may try to hold so-called peace rallies in the city. She said such gathering will not be allowed as this might sow chaos in Zamboanga anew.
“I am giving you a categorical ‘NO,’ you must not disturb Zamboanga anymore. If you want to come up with your rally, make it in your area. Zamboanga will not welcome a rally by MNLF, not at this time because you still have to be held accountable for the killings and devastations we are suffering from,” Climaco said.
Misuari is wanted by authorities after his forces attacked Zamboanga City – first in 2001 then in 2013 – leaving over 300 people dead and wounded in three weeks of street battles.
“The destruction wrought by the 2013 siege continues to linger, as internally displaced persons – both Muslims, Christians and Lumads, most of whom are those who eluded the conflicts in Sulu and Basilan – have suffered the brunt of the MNLF attack in Zamboanga three years ago,” Climaco said.
She said MNLF members were intercepted in Zamboanga on their way to attend the January 8 assembly in Sulu. “The monitoring of these individuals continues until today. Even as we sleep, the patrol by our brave and gallant police and soldiers in uniform including the Coast Guard continues. The land, air and sea assets are all monitoring the safety and security of Zamboanga,” Climaco said.
But many MNLF members live in Zamboanga. During the siege many of them, including women, joined the fighting that displaced over 120,000 people.
In Sulu, security forces missed the opportunity to arrest Misuari following a massive show of force by the MNLF and Abu Sayyaf rebels who attended the plenum staged by the ageing leader in Indanan town to discuss the upcoming Islamic Inter-Parliamentary Union and summit by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) this year.
Misuari is reportedly planning to attend the international summit despite a string of criminal charges filed by authorities against him and about 300 others who took part in the siege of Zamboanga. The plenum forced the military to declare a red alert status in Sulu for fear the MNLF and Abu Sayyaf may launch a surprise attack on government targets.
Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996, ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the peace accord, there was widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were given.
Under the peace agreement, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their living standards.
In 2001, Misuari’s loyal forces and former MNLF rebels – who joined the Philippine Army following the September 1996 peace deal with Manila – attacked a key military base in Jolo town and civilian targets in Zamboanga City in an effort to stop the government from conducting an election in the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao where Misuari was then the governor.
Misuari escaped by boat to Malaysia, where he had been arrested and deported to the Philippines and was eventually pardoned and released by President Gloria Arroyo in exchange for MNLF support to her election bid as well as her allies in the Senate and Congress in 2004. He also ran thrice for governor in Sulu even while under detention, but lost miserably.