DAVAO CITY—More than a month before Monday’s attack on Zamboanga City, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) began to consolidate its forces through so-called peace rallies to express support for the full implementation of the final peace agreement the group signed with the government in 1996.
On several occasions, the MNLF forces gathered in full battle gear to show their readiness to resume their struggle for their right to self-determination.
Thousands of MNLF members, some carrying rifles, massed in Lampaki village in Indanan town, Sulu province, on July 25 to 29 for an assembly that they claimed had an atmosphere of “independence.”
Weeks after the gathering, the MNLF confirmed that its chair, Nur Misuari, declared an independent “Bangsamoro Republik” on Aug. 12, immediately appointing himself as chief of the Bangsamoro Armed Forces.
On Aug. 19, hundreds of MNLF members and supporters gathered at Masjid Tulay village in Jolo town, Sulu, to express support for the declaration of independence.
The next day, heavily armed MNLF fighters gathered in Maguindanao as the declaration of independence was replicated by a top MNLF commander, Ismael Parnan.
Similar gatherings, with fewer participants, were also held in Mati City in Davao Oriental province and Sarangani province in August.
Peace talks with MILF
On Aug. 25, the 39th round of exploratory talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended with an announcement that the last two annexes to a framework for a peace agreement stood a great chance of being settled in the next meeting, scheduled in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.
On Sept. 1, hundreds of MNLF members gathered in Davao City to express their disgust at peace talks between the government and the MILF.
During that gathering, Emmanuel Fontanilla, a lawyer and spokesman for Misuari, said the latter had ordered the consolidation of forces in preparation for a fight for the independence of Mindanao.
Fontanilla said the fight for independence would be carried out peacefully and through legal means.
“We will be in a defensive stance but we will fight back if attacked,” Fontanilla said.
On Monday, Fontanilla said the “scheduled peace rally” in Zamboanga City turned bloody after fighting erupted between MNLF members and government security forces.
The city government claimed the MNLF attacked several villages in the city.
But the MNLF claimed that police forces conducted “uncoordinated law enforcement operations,” forcing rebels to fight back in self-defense.
“The peace rally was coordinated with the local government, but they refused to give us a permit for the rally,” Fontanilla told the Inquirer by phone.
“Unlike in Zamboanga, (Davao City) Mayor Rodrigo Duterte gave us a permit and the rally was conducted successfully and peacefully,” he said.