MANILA, Philippines — His story shows the cracks in government statements. He tells of a missed opportunity, a move for peace ignored. His frustration palpable, he struggles to understand why they couldn’t bring the hostages to safety.
Teodyver Arquiza is a reporter for Radio Mindanao Network and a stringer for TV5. He is also a barangay councilor of Talontalon, one of the coastal villages cordoned off by the combined forces of the military and the police.
The faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Commander George Ismael arranged to release the hostages to him Thursday night, September 12.
Commander Ismael also told him they are going to surrender because, quite simply, they are tired. It was the 4th day of the standoff with government forces.
The commander, along with about 80 rebels and about 40 hostages, held a mosque in Sta Barbara, one of the sites of heavy fighting since Monday, September 9. They surrendered to police but demanded Teodyver Arquiza document the surrender publicly and lead them out to safety. They said they did not trust the crisis committee.
The reporter agreed to, not because he wants the scoop, but because he is also a barangay councilor. He said most of the hostages they’re holding are from Talontalon. He said he coordinated the release of the hostages with the government through a friend who is a cop.
“My constituents are most important,” he told Rappler in a phone interview Friday afternoon. His voice was determined. He said the relatives of the hostages are counting on him as their only chance to bring their loved ones to safety.
The followers of MNLF founder Nur Misuari arrived in Zamboanga City at the break of dawn Monday, September 9, through the coastal villages that are now cordoned off by the military. According to military estimates, a total of 200 rebels attacked the city and took up to 180 hostages. Some have been released.
Arquiza agreed to get his story published. “Basta po just to reiterate na all I want is to save the hostages na karamihan constituents ko,” he said. (Just to reiterate, all I want is to save the hostages, most of whom are my constituents.)
At 8 pm Thursday, September 12, he marched to the mosque in Sta Barbara confident he would bring his constituents to safety. But he was surprised when the military stopped him. It’s not safe, he was told.
He left Sta Barbara after an hour and went home frustrated. “I really thought it was properly coordinated,” he told Rappler.
The eventual surrender of about 80 MNLF troops under Commander Ismael would take interesting twists and turns Thursday night. It was eventually ignored. (Government officials denied it happened. We stand by our story.)
At home, the reporter got a call from Chief Supt Juanito Vano Jr, police director of Region 9, who asked if they could talk to him. He was fetched from his house and he was brought to the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) where the Crisis Management Committee was holding a command conference.
The MNLF troops would wait for the reporter for hours that night, but he was trapped in Wesmincom. He joined the meetings, he said, but he was asked to leave the room when Zamboanga City Mayor Ma Isabelle “Beng” Climaco presided.
Rappler was able to talk to the same MNLF member Thursday night. “Hinihintay namin reporter (We are waiting for the reporter),” he reiterated during the phone interview. He identified himself as Paul Casa.
While the RMN reporter-kagawad was in the military camp, the police were already processing the rebels, starting a head count.
Towards midnight, the MNLF coordinator told Arquiza that Commander Ismael was tired and that they should just do the processing again the following day.
“Ang tagal kasi ng meeting,” Arquiza said. (The meeting just took too long.)
Arquiza intended to return at 6 am the following day, Friday, but a clash in nearby Sta Catalina prevented that from happening. Catholic priest Fr Michael Ufana was released by MNLF Commander Habier Malik, who initally camped out in Sta Barbara but had apparently moved to Sta Catalina.
When Rappler spoke to Arquiza on Friday, he said he is frustrated the arrangement did not work out. Assessing the events, he wondered if the outcome would have been different if he didn’t coordinate with government troops.
“Sayang talaga,” he said. (What a waste.)
Talontalon is one of the barangays cordoned off by the combined forces of the military and the police. But located at the rightmost end of the area, the situation there was not as bad as Sta Barbara or Sta Catalina.
But on Saturday, Arquiza said he fears the situation is changing.
“Ang gyera lumalapit na sa amin,” he said. (The war is coming closer.)
His voice was laced with fear this time. – Rappler.com