MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang issued a stern warning to the members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) currently in a standoff with government forces in Zamboanga City Thursday, saying it will not hesitate to use force in protecting the people.
“Let it be clear to those defying us that they should not entertain the illusion that the state will hesitate to use its forces to protect our people,” Secretary Edwin Lacierda said in a statement.
“It is time for you to cooperate to resolve this situation peacefully at the soonest possible time,” he said.
The standoff in Zamboanga City, which began Monday when MNLF members attempted to march to city hall to raise the rebel flag there, is already going into its fourth day.
The MNLF forces currently hold several villages along with hundreds of civilians as hostages.
Malacañang also warned other armed insurgent groups that they should not take advantage of the situation in Zamboanga city.
“As for others who seek to take advantage of the situation, you will fail. There has been an encounter in Basilan today when members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Figthers (BIFF) and Abu Sayaff Group (ASG), estimated at around 150, ostensibly tried to attack Lamitan City, [Basilan]” Lacierda said.
“The BIFF and ASG assumed they could take advantage of the situation. They were wrong,” he said.
Lacierda further warned that there have been circulating text messages from anonymous persons that were causing confusion and alarm to the public to take advantage of the situation.
“We ask further cooperation from the people of Zamboanga City: we reiterate that there are people relishing this situation and who seek to inflame passions for various reasons,” Lacierda said.
“Please understand that rumors of abductions of religious leaders and firefights that did not take place, which are spread through anonymous text messages, aim to take advantage of you. Instead, listen to the authorities, who will give you the truth all the time,” he said.