MNLF to file counter-charges vs govt

Ayee Macaraig

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Nur Misuari was supposed to be interviewed via phonepatch at a Monday press conference. But his lawyer said he's 'in the mountains.'

PEACE-LOVING? Misuari lawyer Rexie Bugaring says his client is peace-loving and his followers merely wanted to organize a peace rally in Zamboanga. Photo by Ayee Macaraig/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said it will file counter-charges against the Philippine government over the Zamboanga crisis.

The MNLF’s Absalom Cerveza said the group of founding chairman Nur Misuari will also sue the government for damages in the conflict in Zamboanga City.

Cerveza was responding to the statement of President Benigno Aquino III on Sunday, September 22, that that the government will file criminal charges against Misuari and his followers.

READ: Rebellion charges readed vs Misuari

“We will also charge the government for the destruction of houses and [other properties],” Cerveza said via phonepatch at the Kapihan sa Manila Hotel press forum on Monday, September 23.

On Sunday, Aquino said the government has witnesses who will directly link Misuari to the conflict, and that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is already preparing charges against him.

Misuari’s lawyer in Manila, Rexie Bugaring, said in the same press forum that the MNLF will sue the government using the laws of the Bangsamoro Republik, whose independence Misuari declared in August. The Aquino administration has refused to recognize this, saying there is only one government.

“That (filing of charges) is accepted from the very start once you declare independence but according to the spokesman (Cerveza), if they sue us, we will also sue them and ask for reparation of damages to their territory,” Bugaring said.

“What [the MNLF] said is, ‘We have our own Constitution, our own laws to follow. What [the government] did in Zamboanga is also their responsibility. In fact, we are intending to charge them with war damage,’” said Bugaring.

Bugaring refused to say when he last spoke with Misuari, invoking lawyer-client confidentiality. Misuari was supposed to be interviewed via phonepatch in the press conference but Bugaring said the MNLF founding chairman was “in the mountains,” making this impossible.

MNLF spokesperson Emmanuel Fontanilla said the government’s move to file charges against Misuari is “non-productive.”

“The government is pushing the other party to the extreme. If the government will not allow MNLF to play in political arena, what will be the alternative now? …. It’s embarrassing. There is a final peace agreement, the Tripoli agreement. Why isn’t the government using this agreement,” Fontanilla said also via phonepatch.

The spokesperson was referring to the peace agreement the MNLF signed with the Ramos administration in 1996. The MNLF signed the Tripoli Agreement earlier in 1976.

READ: Misuari and the lessons of inclusion

Protracted conflict

The Zamboanga conflict has dragged on for two weeks now, killing over 100 people and displacing 100,000 residents.

READ: Young officer killed in Zambo siege

In the press briefing, the MNLF spokespersons reiterated their claim that the government entered into an agreement with its breakaway group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) without fully implementing the 1996 deal with the MNLF.

Last year, the government signed a Framework Agreement with the MILF intending to create a Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Fontanilla said the Organization of Islamic Cooperation already asked the Philippine government to “synchronize” the two agreements but the MNLF does not see how the government can reconcile the 1996 deal with the Framework Agreement.

Fontanilla also cited a supposed letter from the Philippine government dated March 23, 2013 terminating the review of the 1996 agreement. He said the MNLF got the letter from the Indonesian Embassy through an explanatory note.

“Let’s put things in the proper context. What was the first deal the government signed? …. Why will the government take the first agreement for granted? Bakit ang nakatatandang kapatid ang luluhod sa nakababatang kapatid? That’s very sad. Kami ang pasusundin sa ikalawang agreement.” (Why will you let the elder sibling kneel before the younger sibling? It’s sad that we are being made to follow the second agreement.)

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda has denied that the government terminated the review, saying there is an ongoing review process of the implementation of the 1996 pact. The government also said it invited Misuari and his group to join the Transition Commission that will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law but they declined.

“If you know the chairman and if you just know him a person, he is a person who looks for all alternatives but unfortunately he realized the elections in the Philippines is so corrupt, very corrupt that an honest person can never try. We opted for political process. We announced we are opting for a peaceful process but unfortunately the Zamboanga incident intervened which became uncontrollable,” Fontanilla said.

Fontanilla and Bugaring said the MNLF only meant to organize a peace caravan in Zamboanga City and it was the military and police that “accosted” them.

The government though said it could not allow the MNLF to raise its flag in the Zamboanga city hall, and merely responded when the group seized 5 barangays or villages, took civilians hostages and used them as human shields. –

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