MANILA, Philippines—President Aquino said Tuesday the government did not sanction the attack by armed men of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) against kidnappers believed to be members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group that left at least 26 dead.
“There’s no sanction; there’s no clearance. They didn’t tell us that they were going to attack the Abu Sayyaf,” the President said in a press conference after he spoke at the Philippine Development Forum in Davao City.
The President’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said they were deferring to local authorities to determine whether either camp would be held liable for the killings.
Reports said the MNLF, which signed a peace treaty with the government in 1996, had gone to the Abu Sayyaf lair in upland Patikul in Jolo to demand the release of Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani and his Filipino companions.
Death toll: 26
The clash broke out on Sunday morning, hours after the kidnappers freed cameraman Ramelito Vela and audio technician Rolando Letrero after eight months of captivity in the jungles of Sulu but reportedly refused to hand over Atyani.
The fighting subsided Monday after the kidnap group reportedly split into smaller groups, with a large group seen fleeing Patikul to an adjacent town. Authorities put the death toll at 26.
On hearing about last Sunday’s clash the President said he ordered the military and police to secure the civilians, and sent the social welfare department to evacuate those caught in the crossfire.
“There was something like 300-plus families that are currently being assisted primarily by the LGU (local government unit) of Sulu, assisted by our national government agencies,” Aquino told reporters in an ambush interview aired over government-run radio.
Aquino said the violence was “being contained” so that it would not spread beyond Patikul.
To prevent similar skirmishes in the future, the President said the government has always advocated a long-term solution: development of Mindanao, specifically the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“That’s what we’re hoping to achieve with the peace process: address the root cause of rebellion, and find solutions to the social ills that have not been addressed,” he said.
After a new comprehensive peace agreement is forged with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a breakaway faction of the MNLF, the government would press ahead with its development plan for Mindanao, specifically ARMM, Aquino said.
The government and the MILF are now ironing out sensitive issues in the annexes of the framework agreement that was signed in October last year. The agreement calls for the setting up of an autonomous Bangsamoro entity that would replace ARMM.
In Zamboanga City, Habib Mudjahab Hashim, chairman of the MNLF’s Islamic Council Committee, called for an end to the fighting.