Palace: Rebels underestimated us

'A crime has already happened… If they intended to do a Cabatangan template in 2001, that’s something that they underestimated in this administration'

AQUINO ASSURANCES. In this photo taken Sept 13, President Benigno Aquino III gives assurances the military can contain the rebels in Zamboanga. Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Tuesday, September 17 continued to defend the government’s moves regarding the Zamboanga conflict, following criticism from former President Fidel V. Ramos.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda justified the decisions made by the government, arguing the rebels “underestimated this administration,” as shown in their supposedly unrealistic demands.

Fighting between government troops and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels — who seized Zamboanga City on Monday, September 9 — entered its 9th day, Tuesday.

President Benigno Aquino III is still in Zamboanga City; he arrived there last Friday, September 13.

READ: 79 people leave Zambo City battle zone

Ramos, who finalized the 1996 peace agreement with the MNLF under his presidency, criticized the government for its alleged failure to implement the peace accord despite it being handed to the administration “on a silver platter.”

He also questioned the handling of the siege by the Aquino administration and its supposed lack of coordination, which Ramos said led to the rebels’ siege of the city.

READ: Troops advance as ceasefire falters

Lacierda fired back at Ramos, adding the rebels’ demands have been unacceptable.

“On the issue about ‘we handed it to you on a silver platter’, I’m sure President Ramos knows that we were not the immediate successor to his administration. In fact, the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement is building on the gains of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement,” Lacierda said.

“With due respect to President Ramos, they (the rebels) already had hostages when they first entered Zamboanga… As for negotiations, we have representatives speaking to them who have been authorized by the President.”

Lacierda emphasized negotiations with the MNLF are ongoing but said MNLF chief Nur Misuari was asking for a safe conduct pass that would let them off the hook from any punishment — something President Benigno Aquino III would not agree to do.

READ: Aquino: MNLF’s happy days are over

“A crime has already happened… If they intended to do a Cabatangan template in 2001, that’s something that they underestimated in this administration,” he said, referring to the 2001 siege of Zamboanga City wherein the government agreed to let go of the rebels in exchange for the release of hostages.

At least 87 people have been killed and 146 have been wounded in the week-long siege, according to the latest military update.

‘Gov’t doing okay’

But Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said her last conversation with Ramos was of a different tone.

In a statement, Deles said Ramos gave her a call Monday night, and “expressed his concern that the situation in Zamboanga City be resolved as soon as possible.”

“He also said that he thought that everyone in government was doing okay. He reiterated the need for early resolution of the crisis and that in doing this, it was imperative to have a single authoritative command,” Deles said.

Deles said Ramos also encouraged the completion of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and its annexes, and reminded her not to be “distracted or deterred by the crisis situation in Zamboanga.”

President in Zambo

Lacierda declined to disclose how long the President plans to stay in Zamboanga, but said his presence has been beneficial for government troops and the people of Zamboanga.

“The President is there. He is the Commander-in-Chief. There is a military option that’s being exercised right now. He gives support, he gives directions, so he plays a big role. He has inspired the Armed Forces there, the police forces, and also the city government,” Lacierda said.

“And so it shows the confidence that he also has in the Armed Forces and also the people appreciate — the people of Zamboanga City appreciate the presence of the President during this time of crisis in Zamboanga City.” – Rappler.com

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