MANILA, Philippines — It's been over a month since the end of the Zamboanga City standoff. Zamboangeños are slowly returning to their normal lives. But where is Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander Ustadz Habier Malik, who led the bloody siege?
He's "obviously dead," declared Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Monday, November 4. But Gazmin admitted "we don't have evidence" to prove it.
"If the claims of [MNLF spokesman Emmanuel] Fontanilla were true that Malik is alive, they should have shown him to us. It's been a while, we haven't seen him," Gazmin told reporters after the November 4 awarding ceremony for military heroes of the Zamboanga City siege.
Malik is the top lieutenant of MNLF founder Nur Misuari, who is believed to be the mastermind of the attack in Zamboanga. Malik and hundreds of his men sailed to the city on September 9 aiming to hoist their flag and declare their independence from government.
In a phone interview with Rappler at the height of the standoff, Malik expressed his frustration over the way the new peace with rival group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had supposedly superceded the government's 1996 agreement with the MNLF. (READ: Habier Malik: Trapped in the city he seized)
Western Mindanao Command Lieutenant General Rey Ardo also believes Malik died in Zamboanga during the standoff.
"I believe he was there, namatay," Ardo said. "We are still monitoring. It's possible he's just buried somewhere in Zamboanga," Ardo added.
Like Abu Sabaya?
Gazmin recalled a previous controversy over military claims that Abu Sayyaf Group commander Abu Sabaya was killed in a military operation in Sulu. "The same thing happened to Abu Sabaya. There were claims he wasn't dead. But up to now, Abu Sabaya has not surfaced," Gazmin added.
Sabaya was a spokesman of the Al-Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf Group. The military had said he was killed in November 2002 in an encounter at sea off Zamboanga Del Norte.
Gazmin acknowledged that justice won't be served until the people responsible for the Zamboanga attack are held accountable. "There's no justice in the sense that Misuari has not been arrested. As far as Malik is concerned, I think there's no issue about Malik anymore. They've been saying he is alive but we haven't seen him up to now," Gazmin said.
Gazmin assured the public that government will make sure Misuari will face justice. "We're exerting all efforts to get Misuari," he said.
Government has filed rebellion charges against Misuari, Malik and several other MNLF members before the Zamboanga City Regional Trial Court. (READ: How to arrest a rebel like Nur Misuari) – Rappler.com