On Thursday, September 12, 2013, Rappler reported that about 80 MNLF rebels waved the white flag and surrendered to police forces in Barangay Sta Barbara in Zamboanga City, Philippines. They brought their 35 hostages ready to be released.
They had a simple demand: they asked for reporter/councilor Teodyver Arquiza to document the surrender publicly and lead them out to safety. They said they did not trust the crisis committee.
Yet all of them waited all night to be “processed” by representatives of the crisis committee. No one came. Nothing happened.
Now every official we spoke with denies the surrender happened.
We are listing below a chronology of events that details what happened from Thursday, September 12, to the morning of Friday, September 13. These will show how events unfolded and were shaped by decisions made by officials involved in the siege in Zamboanga.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 12
6:30 pm – MNLF’s Paulo Casa approaches government troops positioned across the street from the mosque they were occupying. (Casa would later relate this to Rappler after we called him up on the phone. He identified himself as the MNLF member who coordinated the surrender.)
Around 8:00 pm – PNP personnel on the ground are able to get in touch with and see the gunmen. The rebels say most of them are from Basilan, belonging to the Yakan tribe.
8:00 pm – After being asked by rebels and hostages to help in negotiations and surrender procedures, a barangay councilor who’s also a broadcaster travels to and arrives in Barangay Sta Barbara. He is blocked by the military. Many of the hostages who are with the rebels are the councilor’s constituents.
The barangay councilor would later tell us that the rebels asked him to facilitate their surrender since they didn’t trust the members of the crisis management committee.
8:30 pm – Information about the surrender is received by Rappler via text and a subsequent phone interview is done with PNP personnel in Sta Barbara. One of the policemen on the ground asks the MNLF rebels about MNLF leader Habier Malik and is told that “Malik is not with them” and is instead “in the next mosque towards our direction.” This is when we are able to speak on the phone with the MNLF member who served as the coordinator. He identified himself as Paulo Casa.
He says he negotiated a ceasefire. He said he was unarmed when he approached the police forces. Casa said they were holding 38 hostages. He said they’re doing fine.
9:00 pm – After waiting for an hour, the barangay councilor decides to leave Sta Barbara and go home. He gets a call from Chief Supt Juanito Vano Jr, police director of Region 9, and is picked up and brought to the Western Mindanao Command headquarters. He agrees to go to ensure coordination with authorities. But the meeting there lasts for hours.
9:05 pm – Rappler receives this information: “Hostages nasa harapan nila. Naka-line. May kandilang nakalatag sa harapan nila.” (The hostages are in front of them, lined up. Candles are also spread out in front of them.)
9:10 pm – Rappler posts the story about the surrender.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas denies the report. Sources tell us an upset Roxas calls up Vano. The crisis management committee was completely unaware of what was taking place in Sta Barbara.
9:50 pm – A PNP source says in Filipino, “They’re in front of us, 70+ (a slight change in the original estimate of 80). We don’t have the exact number of hostages.”
Between 10 pm and 11 pm – The PNP begins the “processing” of those who surrendered, but they can’t do much. They are waiting for the barangay councilor whom they personally trust and who can make the surrender public. This, according to the sources Rappler spoke with, was their only demand.
10:30 pm – Policemen on the ground are assured that Task Force Zamboanga is headed to the area to assist in the “processing.” They prepare to bring some of the wounded and elder folks to a hospital.
Around 11:00 pm – Rappler calls up the barangay councilor but he says, “I can’t talk now” because he is in a meeting.
During this time, one of the MNLF commanders calls him up to say they are tired of waiting and that the final processing can instead be done on Friday, September 13, at 6:00 am.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 13
12:15 am – We are told, “The bosses are still not in the area… they’re still in a meeting.”
12:30 am – A text message from a police officer on the ground says, “Nahirapan na ang mga hostages…naghantay ng MNLF sa media. At para maka surrender na ng formal.” (The hostages are having a hard time…the MNLF are waiting for the media to be able to formally surrender.)
Around 1:30 am – The barangay councilor goes home.
6:00 am – A senior officer picks up the barangay councilor and tells him they will now bring him to Sta Barbara for the surrender. It doesn’t happen purportedly because gunshots are fired in Barangay Sta Catalina, where Fr Michael Ufana was released.
12 noon – The PNP members who accepted the surrender are ordered to leave the area.
The MNLF rebels who surrendered, the police forces they surrendered to, and the people involved demand their story be told accurately and honestly.
Rappler stands by its story and prays for a peaceful resolution of this crisis. – Rappler.com