ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 13 Sept) — Flying into this besieged city this morning, President Benigno Aquino instructed negotiators to continue looking for a peaceful solution to end the five-day siege in six of 98 barangays here even as government will not hesitate to use force against the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces of Nur Misuari, if necessary.
Talking to journalists after distributing boxes of menthol candies and chocolate bars at the Philippine Navy headquarters in Zamboanga City, Aquino said ending the five-day crisis here without additional loss of lives should be paramount for government negotiators.
“Piliin natin ang maraming chance mabuhay. Yung gusto magusap ng kapayapaan, ating suportahan (We will choose an option where many would live. Those who want to talk peace, we shall embrace), Aquino said.
Aquino said he will not impose any ultimatum for the negotiations but the military shall continue operations against the Moro National Liberation Front. MNLF forces under founding chair Nur Misuari laid siege initially on four villages, later six, at around 1:45 a.m. Monday, September 9 but the MNLF under Habier Malik claimed they were in the city to stage a peace rally and to hoist the MNLF flag in City Hall in pursuit of the declaration of independence allegedly issued by Misuari on August 12 in Sulu.
He warned however that he will unleash the full might of the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police if one civilian hostage will be harmed.
A total of 18 persons have been killed – three from the Philippine National Police, two each from the military and civilians, and 11 from the MNLF – Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, Jr., AFP spokesperson told a press conference in Camp Aguinaldo at noon.
Tutaan said a total of 52 were injured – 28 from the military, six from the police and 18 from the civilians – while 20 others from the MNLF were “captured / surrendered / arrested.”
Aquino also confirmed the release of Roman Catholic priest Father Michael Ufana by the rebels. The president, however did not say if the priest was released to relay the rebels’ demands.
The President congratulated the AFP for preventing any escalation of the crisis saying that the government shall continue to support the military operations.
“The rebels tried to escalate the situation by mounting attacks in Basilan but they failed,” Aquino said.
In a symbolic gesture of support, Aquino distributed boxes of cherry-flavored Maxx menthol candy and Cloud 9 Fun packs chocolate bars at the Philippine Navy headquarters in Camp Navarro this city.
Aquino said they also bought 3,000 SIM cards which were requested by the soldiers operating in the city. The AFP and PNP have enough forces in Zamboanga to attack the rebels occupying barangays Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina, Rio Hondo, Talon-talon, Mampang and parts of Tugbungan.
The City Council on Thursday night unanimously approved Ordinance 418, as recommended by the Crisis Management Committee, ordering the forced evacuation in the six conflict-affected barangays and neighboring villages “as danger of loss of lives becomes imminent.”
AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said rebels tried to attack the compound of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Lamitan town, Basilan island province this morning but was repelled by the army.
Zagala said the rebels also tried to attack the town yesterday but failed. One militiaman and four civilians were killed in the attack, he said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)