MANILA, Philippines – At least seven villages in Zamboanga City have fallen into the hands of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) after an encounter with government troops early Monday, its spokesman claimed Monday.
“What we confirmed is that seven villages had fallen and one Sta. Barbara [police] station has been manned by the MNLF,” said MNLF spokesperson, Atty. Emmanuel Fontanilla, in an interview over Radyo Inquirer 990AM.
Asked if what he meant by “fallen” was that Philippine authorities no longer had control over the areas, Fontanilla answered yes.
The spokesperson also said yes to the question on whether the seven villages were Mariki, Rio Hondo, Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina, Kasanyangan, Talon-Talon, and Tugbungan.
“We have embedded members inside Zamboanga. That is why [MNLF] movement has been very easy,” Fontanilla said.
But Police Chief Superintendent Juanito Vaño Jr., Region IX police director, in a separate interview also with Radyo Inquirer 990AM, said they have only monitored the presence of MNLF in Sta. Catalina.
Vaño said they have also regained control of Rio Hondo.
Misuari escorts and MNLF flags
Earlier, Fontanilla said the clash, which left at least one dead and several injured, was triggered when government troops engaged escorts of MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari.
He said they “have no plan whatsoever to resort to violent means” but will be forced to defend themselves if government forces attack.
The lawyer cited various reasons for their movement into the city, one was the arrest of an MNLF member without coordination with the peace-keeping committee and another was the local government prohibiting them from holding a “peace rally” in the city.
The Philippine Information Agency posted on Twitter that the MNLF were putting up their flags in the city.
Fontanilla confirmed the report but said the taking of hostages was not true.
He said the MNLF has long been putting up flags in areas they have occupied and that the practice was probably forgotten by the public.
“We have to repeat it in order to show to the whole world that during the ceasefire agreement we have some areas that we have already controlled,” Fontanilla said.
Asked on why they were claiming Zamboanga City which is not part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Fontanilla said the MNLF represents the entire Mindanao.
In July this year, Inquirer Mindanao reported that MNLF posters and flags were being displayed in Zamboanga City, with unofficial stories of the group declaring “independence.” But MNLF Islamic Command Council chair Habib Mudjahab Mashim denied the rumors.
Fontanilla also clarified that the flags being put up were of the MNLF and not of an independent Mindanao.
Back to square one?
With the ongoing peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the MNLF and its factions have been asking how this will affect their own peace pact finalized in 1996.
The MNLF said the government should reconcile the two agreements and address conflicts through the 1996 peace agreement’s tripartite review by the government, the MNLF and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).
However, Fontanilla claimed that last Friday, “the peace-keeping committee called our presence…sinabi na the government has sent closure to the tripartite review and the OIC cannot force the government to conduct the negotiation…Because they are asserting that all of the agreements were already implemented.”
(However, Fontanilla claimed that last Friday, “the peace-keeping committee called our presence…and said the government has sent closure to the tripartite review and the OIC cannot force the government to conduct the negotiation…Because they are asserting that all of the agreements were already implemented.”)
The lawyer said there are still provisions under their peace pact that were not implemented by the Philippine government – “the question on plebiscite, the questions on territory, the questions of provisional government and of course wealth sharing.”
He said the news prompted them to return to their “former aspiration that is independence.” He, however, did not explain what their next moves will be.
Fontanilla said the Indonesian government should likewise revive the OIC’s ceasefire committee as they wanted to resolve the issues in a peaceful way.