Habier Malik: We're ready to die
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — Habier Malik, the commander of a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leading the attacks that shut down Zamboanga City and killed at least 51, is not dead. But he said he is ready to die.
Rappler spoke with Malik over the phone Sunday morning, September 15.
"Ewan ko kung paano 'yun. Hindi naman ako nakapagtext sabi ko namatay ako. Ang tao pag patay na hindi na yan makapagtext," he joked. (I don't know how that happened. I did not text them to say I'm dead. If someone is dead, he cannot anymore send a text message.)
But Malik said he's ready to die. "Pagpunta dito, we are ready to die for our cause," he said.
Malik acknowledged that the government troops are closing in on them. The area they control is shrinking, he admitted.
"Nakikita ko kahit mamamatay kami, halimbawa maubos kami, ang katibayan ng MNLF ay hindi mawawala," he said. (I can see that, even if we all die, the principles of the MNLF will not die with us.)
Malik is the top aide of MNLF founder Nur Misuari. They oppose the new peace deal the government is finalizing with its rival group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Malik argued that MNLF's 1996 agreement with the Philippines cannot be sidestepped by a new agreement with the MILF.
They sailed to Zamboanga on Monday, September 9, and took over a hundred hostages to get government attention. They planned to hoist their flag at the City Hall and declare their independence. The standoff between MNLF and government troops is on its seventh day.
On Friday, September 13, there were reports that Malik had died from a close battle between the rebels and the military.
Malik was referring to reports from the military that he had died.
On September 14, former AFP spokesperson Lt Col Harold Cabunoc tweeted information he recieved that Malik was dead.
There are strong indications that Ustadz Habier Malik has died. A friend from Sulu said that he was killed in the assault.— LtCol Harold Cabunoc (@HaroldCabunoc94) September 14, 2013
Cabunoc was quick to add, however, that until a body was found, the military would not confirm his death.
We can only confirm his death once his dead body is found. He must be given decent burial in accordance to Islamic traditions.— LtCol Harold Cabunoc (@HaroldCabunoc94) September 14, 2013
Malik confirmed he was caught in a gun battle with government troops when they were moving around the area of Lustre.
"Medyo 'yun ang pinakamalala na bakbakan. Gabi-gabi nagpapasabog sila ng mortar pero hindi naka- tabla sa amin," Malik said. (It was the worst gun battle so far. Every night they unleash mortar fire but they don't hurt us.)
Malik did admit that sniper fire hurt them during that encounter that supposedly killed 4 MNLF troops.
Malik released on Friday, September 13, Catholic priest Fr Michael Ufana. Malik said he let the priest go because he can explain to those who do not understand what the MNLF is fighting for.
Malik blanketly denied almost everything the military has claimed about the standoff in the coastal villages of Zamboanga City.
The military said there were originally 200 of them that entered the city. Malik claimed there were 400 of them.
The military said at least 51 of the rebels were killed. Malik claims only 10 have died.
He denied the MNLF fighters are burning the houses.
"Bakit sunugin namin nadito kami. Di man pwede yan. Yung first sunog mas mabuti may civilian, sinabi ko sa MNLF pagtulungan para hindi kumulat ang sunog. Always na pinapasabugan nila ng mortar. Pinapabayaan namin. Bahala sila. 'Yun ang kagustuhan nila yun," Malik said.
(Why should we burn [the houses] when we are here? That can't be. It was good there were civilians during the first fire. I told the MNLF troops that we should help them so the fire does not spread. But [the military] kept firing mortar shells. We let it go. That's what they want, so be it.)
"Palagay nila maiipit kami. Hindi naman. Meron din daanan. Kahit masunog na, mayroon pa maiiwan. Ang bahay na sunog, bahay pa rin," he added. (They think we will be trapped. No. There are still ways [to escape]. Even if we are eliminated, some will still be left. A burnt house is still a house.)
The attack on Zamboanga City is now on its 7th day. It is the latest in a series of attacks carried out by MNLF or its factions.
The most notorious of which was on Sulu on Nov 19, 2001, when the group attacked at least 5 Army detachments. At least 113 people were killed in that Sulu attack. More than 100 of them were MNLF followers.
Watch a video of government troops in Zamboanga city, taken on the 7th day of continuing clashes, below.
The standoff in Zamboanga City had resulted in a humanitarian crisis with thousands of people forced to leave their homes and find refuge in evacuation centers.
The DSWD says they are able to feed and care for all the internally-displaced persons but are appealing to aid groups for help to cook food for them. Still, many of the evacuees want the conflict to end soon so they can return to their homes, or at least what's left of it. — Rappler.com