MANILA, Philippines—A Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) spokesman on Friday confirmed reports that ground commander Habier Malik was still alive and fighting.
“Yes (he is still alive). (He) is formidable. He has proven his experience, his agility and everything,” Emmanuel Fontanilla told Radyo Inquirer 990AM.
Fontanilla said the leader of Moro forces in Zamboanga City was able to prevent government forces from controlling their area.
He dismissed reports that the MNLF has been constricted in only two villages.
He said the MNLF rebels locked in a gunbattle with government troops in Zamboanga City remained in control of four villages, adding the group was intact, except in Sta. Barbara where the military allegedly burned houses being used by rebels as hiding place.
He said there were still “pockets” of MNLF fighters in Sta. Barbara.
Fontanilla also contradicted reports that their people were hungry and running out of ammunition, forcing them to surrender to the government.
“We’re getting a lot of support!” Fontanilla said. Laughing, he asked, “Why is it that many of their forces are dying?”
He said that as of Wednesday, hundreds have been killed on the side of the government compared to only 18 from their forces.
Fontanilla said since Day 3 of the fighting, they had received reports that Governor Mujiv Hataman, of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, was planning to make civilians pretend that they were MNLF members who wanted to surrender.
He said the conflict might last for “a century” if the Aquino administration continues with its “military solution.”
“We will not pursue aggressive action because that is not our purpose,” he said, explaining that they only want to continue talks with the Philippine government through international negotiations.
“If we say that we want the [United Nations] (to intervene) and they are not allowed into the Philippines, what happens?” Fontanilla said. “President [Benigno Aquino III] is smart. [He] should stop using other approaches.”
He said the government is resorting to the “divide and rule” tactic by referring to other supposed MNLF factions “with mayors as members,” referring to former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema.
“Let’s not kid around,” he said.
Fontanilla lamented that the more than 40 years of peace talks between the MNLF and the Philippine government would be put to waste because of the ongoing conflict.
But the President, in a press conference on Thursday, said the group’s objective was “hard to understand” because of conflicting reports.
Aquino said that Nur Misuari “declared independence but [in the same breath] said that the peace process continued.”
Clashes between the MNLF and the Philippine military started September 9, coinciding with the talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The MNLF has long been criticizing the Philippine government and the MILF’s Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, claiming that it will water down the gains of its own final peace accord in 1996.
The group also claimed that several provisions of the 1996 agreement have yet to be implemented amid the government’s alleged termination of its review.