MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III arrived in Zamboanga City on Friday, September 13, and made it clear that the rebels’ days of inciting chaos are over.
Aquino addressed reporters past noon upon his arrival 5 days since the stand-off between government troops and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels, and vowed the government will continue to track down “lawless elements.”
“Tapos na and maliligayang araw nila (Their happy days are over),” he said, expressing confidence that government forces are can defeat the rebels and prevent the violence from spreading to other towns and provinces.
He said the military is “sufficient” and “overwhelming” in terms of numbers and equipment, and that the rebels are now contained in 4 barangays.
“Hindi natin sila pinayagan makapagkalat ng lagim (We did not allow them to sow terror),” Aquino said.
The President also took the chance to deny a Rappler report that around 80 rebels surrendered Thursday night, September 12, echoing the denial by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
“Mali ata yun, walang sumuko (I don’t think that’s correct. No one surrendered),” Aquino said, but adding that there were some MNLF members who were arrested.
Rappler stands by its story.
Rappler reported the surrender, based on information obtained from the ground. Police intelligence sources and residents in Barangay Sta Barbara told Rappler they surrendered to a team of the Philippine National Police, the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission and the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime.
Sources said: “A certain member of MNLF under commander Ismael with white flag reached our position and negotiated their surrender. About 80 of them are armed and one is wounded.”
The MNLF member who served as the coordinator was identified as Paulo Casa. At around 6:30 pm, he said he approached government troops positioned across the street from the mosque they were occupying in barangay Sta Barbara.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala also denied the rebels surrendered, saying negotiations are still ongoing.
Willing to cooperate
Aquino said the objectives behind the MNLF’s actions remain unclear, but emphasized “there are really some groups that don’t want the Comprehensive Framework Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to continue.”
He said the administration continues to speak and negotiate with MNLF head Nur Misuari.
The President asserted that the government has not failed in addressing the demands of the MNLF. He said substantial components of the government’s 1996 agreement with the MNLF was implemented, including the integration of more than 6,000 former rebels into the state security sector.
He said the aspects of the agreement that were still unmet were because the government was waiting on actions or updates from the other side.
In his address, Aquino gave assurances the government is looking at possible charges it can file against Misuari and his men, something he ordered Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to do since the start of the crisis in Zamboanga.
The President thanked soldiers, and said the government values their lives as much as it values those of civilians.
“Nandito kami kasama ninyo (We are here with you),” he told at least 300 government troops.
Different government agencies have been mobilized to address the needs of affected residents, he said.
“Preservation of life is paramount,” he said, vowing safety for the people of Zamboanga. – with reports from Karlos Manlupig/Rappler.com