Habier Malik leading MNLF attacks in Zambo

MANILA, Philippines — In Sulu last February, he led the charge against the Abu Sayyaf after the group failed to release a Jordanian journalist. His men clashed with the bandits, displacing 2,000 Sulu residents.

On Monday, September 9, Habier Malik, commander of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and a key senior aide of MNLF founder Nur Misuari, was spotted by military intelligence as the leader of armed men who occupied 4 villages in Zamboanga City.

Malik was sighted in Barangay Sta Catalina, according to Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt Col Ramon Zagala. Marine officers in Sulu confirmed to Rappler that Malik is no longer in Sulu.

It was also Malik's deputy, Salid Ismael, who spoke with local radio reporters about their demands. 

Malik, who comes from Basilan, has been a Misuari loyalist. He is believed to command armed men both in Basilan and Sulu.

Dolorfino and Sulu

In February 2007, when government troops clashed with MNLF members in Sulu, Malik and his men held hostage then Marine Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino and 18 others. They were held at the MNLF base in Bitan-ag complex in Panamao, Sulu. Dolorfino was there to talk peace.

Jesus Dureza, then the presidential adviser on the peace process, recalls that incident in a mindanews article published last August: "Malik, a religious leader who maintains an armed force in the fastnesses of Sulu, is one of the loyalists who 'hostaged' Marine General Ben Dolorfino and Gen. Ramon Santos, my OPAPP undersecretary, when they entered his camp to deliver some 'goodies' and in a goodwill mission. They were prevented from leaving the camp for several days for one reason or another. I had to fly to Jolo and personally negotiate with Malik to set them free."

After a lunch meeting with Malik, Dolorfino and his team were eventually fetched by two air force helicopters. At the time, Malik expressed his disappointment in the cancellation of the tripartite agreement between the government, MNLF, and the Organization of Islamic Conference that were scheduled that week.

In February this year, Malik figured prominently in clashes with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu that displaced 2,000 people.

Habib Mujahab Hashim, chief of the MNLF's breakaway group the Islamic Command Council, told a local radio station then that it was Misuari who ordered Malik to make war with Abu Sayyaf once negotiation for the release of hostages fail.

Kidnap victims Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela were freed from the Abu Sayyaf camp in Patikul town but the victims’ companion, Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, is still in the ASG's hands.

Atyani and two Filipino companions declared "missing" in Jolo, Sulu since June 13, 2012.

Misuari has protested the ongoing peace talks between the government and the MILF. While he himself already signed a peace agreement with the Ramos government in 1996, Misuari is now saying that government has not fulfilled its commitments in that pact — more than a decade after it was implemented. 

The peace process with the MILF aims to establish a Bangsamoro region that is broader and more independent than what the MNLF had to settle for in 1996: the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Misuari in fact was governor of ARMM, an entity that many say has failed and would be abolished once a law is crafted for the creation of a new Bangsamoro region.

The Zamboanga attacks came on the day the government and the MILF were scheduled to resume their talks in Kuala Lumpur. Both sides hope they will be able to hammer out a final agreement this year. —with reports from Carmela Fonbuena/ Rappler.com