Unseen and ensconced in an undisclosed place in Zamboanga City, President Aquino has been issuing directives to military commanders to flush out followers of Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and rescue their civilian hostages, according to Malacañang.
The President, while scarcely seen in public, has been in Zamboanga since Friday, or five days after hundreds of Misuari’s men arrived by boat from Sulu and Basilan, seeking to plant an independence flag in front of city hall.
“He (President Aquino) is the Commander in Chief. There is a military option that’s being exercised right now. He gives support; he gives directions. So he plays a big role,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters in Manila.
This has set off speculations that he was presiding over the military offensive against the Moro rebels, and was just waiting for the siege to end.
Nearly 100 people have been killed and scores wounded in what was by far the biggest military disturbance in southern Philippines this year.
Aquino has surprised many by flying to the area of fighting, more so when he decided to stay longer, one of the longest times he had been out of Malacañang except for his foreign trips during his three-year presidency.
The President is bent on signing the comprehensive peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front by yearend, and the siege by Misuari’s followers was seen as an attempt to derail the process.
“He has inspired the Armed Forces there, the police forces, and also the city government,” Lacierda said. “And so it shows the confidence that he also has in the Armed Forces and also the people of Zamboanga City appreciate the presence of the President during this time of crisis.”
Aquino “is in touch with the Cabinet officials; he is in touch with the executive secretary, so the business of government runs even if he is in Zamboanga. The President is in touch with all concerned Cabinet secretaries in respect of their respective departments and mandates,” Lacierda said.