MANILA, Philippines – Four days into the Zamboanga City standoff, Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari distanced himself from the ongoing siege that has shut down an entire city, killed 12 people, and displaced at least 14,000 residents.
Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco in a press conference Thursday, September 12, said she was able to talk to Misuari over the phone on Wednesday night "hoping that it would pave the way for the peaceful end of this crisis."
What Misuari said in response was unexpected.
"What is of interest is that, Misuari disowned the actions of Habier Malik, the leader of the hostage-takers with whom I communicated separately," Climaco said. "I expressed my openness to continue communication with Misuari as well as Malik to find a peaceful resolution of this conflict."
But the government stood by its assertion that the Misuari-led faction of the Moro National Liberation Front is behind the siege and those claiming to be his spokespeople are in fact known to be his representatives.
"We in the Armed forces of the Philippines, based on intelligence gathered...believe that he is really the one behind [the attacks in Zamboanga City]," Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt Col Ramon Zagala said.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles earlier said Ustadz Habier Malik, the identified leader of the MNLF group that is behind the Zamboanga siege, is a known Misuari loyalist.
Misuari has not issued any statement to the public since the Zamboanga siege. His spokesperson, lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla, said he is in an undisclosed location. All intelligence reports indicate he's still in Mindanao.
Misuari wants the government to re-open negotiations on the unimplemented provisions of the 1996 peace pact. He is opposed to the current negotiations between MNLF's breakaway group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government, branding it as a "betrayal."
Earlier, Deles criticized Misuari's changing sentiments over the peace process, saying that Misuari should look into his 'pattern of behavior. - with reports from Carmela Fonbuena, Angela Casauay/Rappler.com