Latest Stories


Hostage recalls terror with Misuari men



Zamboanga City—Defying an order from his leader Habier Malik, a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) gunman fired a shot at soldiers at the height of negotiations for a ceasefire in the village of Santa Catalina on Friday afternoon. That error resulted in a failure to free the hostages and in the loss of lives.

“This saboteur rebel fired the first shot, which made Malik mad. We were all supposed to be freed that Friday afternoon but this rebel started shooting at the soldiers,” Junior Santander Morte, 60, a lumberyard owner who escaped from his captors on Saturday, told the Inquirer.

Morte was grazed by a .50 cal. bullet on the forehead and was grazed by another bullet in the left armpit during the fighting.

Morte said that at 2 p.m. on Friday, he and more than 230 other hostages were told to form a human barricade (six lines with about 40 hostages in a line) on Lustre Street, about 100 meters from the military position.

“Soldiers on the ground and soldiers in the armored vehicles kept firing but they did not hit us,” Morte said.

“We were like waves. When the soldiers fired, we ducked one way all at the same time. When that side was hit, we ducked to the other side. When somebody said ‘sit’ or ‘hit the dirt,’ all of us followed,” he said.

As the soldiers and the rebels exchanged fire, “the women and the children cried and begged for the shooting to stop,” Morte added.

Around 3 p.m., some MNLF commanders called up their contacts in the government, asking for a ceasefire to clear the way for the release of wounded hostages, he said.

The hostages were told to continue to form a human barricade while they await the ceasefire, he said.

“But it seemed the soldiers were unaware of the negotiations because they were shooting at the barricade,” Morte said.

A teenage boy was hit in the left arm.

“The other hostages bound his wound,” Morte said.

A 2-year-old child was hit in the head.

“Poor child. The mother pleaded for a halt to the shooting so that the human barricade could leave Lustre,” Morte said.

Around 5 p.m., Malik ordered all the hostages to move back, positioning them some 170 m from the government forces.

Morte said Malik and Ismael Dasta, an MNLF commander from Basilan, resumed calling their contacts in the government to get help for the wounded hostages.

Minutes later, lights from the armored personnel carriers started to flash, giving hope to the hostages who thought they were to be freed.

Morte said Malik started to embrace the hostages, apologizing for what had happened.

Pal Aukasa, one of the MNLF rebels, also cried as he embraced the hostages his group had held since Sept. 9.

“He was crying and asking the hostages for forgiveness. He told them he would understand if they were angry with him,” Morte said.

As the hostages started to move toward the government troops, a Moro fighter fired at the soldiers.

The soldiers fired back and soon there was an intense exchange of fire. Some MNLF forces pulled back the hostages and took them to a mosque in nearby Santa Barbara village.

Morte was one of the 38 hostages held by Dasta’s group and he was among the captives taken to Santa Barbara.

In Santa Barbara, Morte saw a bigger number of Moro rebels—at least 300, including women—led by Malik.

Malik was holding at least 200 hostages, Morte said. “There were many teenagers. They were students,” Morte said.

Morte said the male students were assigned to prepare food for the hostages. The female hostages were ordered to look after the elderly, the sick and the children.

Morte said young MNLF fighters ransacked stores and shops for food, medicines and personal-care stuff.

“But those were not enough because there were so many of us,” he said.

Morte also said the MNLF fighters did not start the burning of houses.

“They’re not crazy. If they did that, the military would know our location,” he said.

But because of the burning of houses and stores, they ran short of food, he said.

“We ate rice that had been soaked in water,” he said.

After the botched release of hostages on Friday, Morte said he went to one of the houses to rest.

Perhaps due to exhaustion, he said, he slept and woke up on Saturday afternoon amid heavy fighting.

It was then that he learned that most of the MNLF rebels and their hostages had moved to Rio Hondo village.

Inside the house, he waited for the shooting to stop.

“When the shooting subsided, I ran for it, heading toward the military position,” he said.

Along the way, he saw three bodies sprawled on the street—two of the hostages and that of the MNLF fighter who defied Malik’s ceasefire order.

But Morte’s ordeal was not yet over.

“The soldiers shouted, ‘Raise your hands!’ I did. ‘Sit down!’ I sat down. ‘On the ground, one your belly!’ I obeyed. ‘Crawl!’ I crawled until I got to them. And then they stripped me,” Morte said.

“I thought I was already free, but they laughed at me. I told them I was grazed with a .50 cal. bullet on the forehead and I had another wound in my armpit. They said I should have been dead,” he said.

Instead of taking him to hospital, Morte said, he was taken to a room where he was interrogated.

He was later taken to the police contingent nearby who interrogated him.

He said neighbors and relatives vouched for him, telling the authorities that he was a resident.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said  Morte’s allegations would be investigated.

“At the height of that crisis, it’s really hard to determine where the bullets were coming from. But what is important is that the safety of the civilians is the primary concern of our troops, and we never have any intention of bringing harm to innocent people,” Zagala told the Inquirer by phone.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Armed conflict , MNLF , Moro National Liberation Front , Nur Misuari , Zamboanga City

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  2. Gigi Reyes back to face charges
  3. SC suspends proctor in 2011 bar exams
  4. What Went Before: Enrile denies Gigi Reyes was ‘other woman’
  5. In the know: Gigi Reyes
  6. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  7. At 77, Erap has Easter treat for Manila cops but keeps City Hall folk in agony
  8. Solons seek ample protection for bank depositors
  9. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  10. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  1. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  2. Suspect in Vhong Navarro mauling tries to leave PH
  3. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  4. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  5. ‘Mom, I love you,’ says text from student on sinking ferry
  6. Fr. Suarez says last Mass on Easter before returning donated land to San Miguel
  7. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  8. Massive infra spending set
  9. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  10. I’ll follow my conscience on Estrada, says JV Ejercito
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. Police rule out foul play in Helena Belmonte’s death as boyfriend is ‘traumatized’
  8. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  9. Model Helena Belmonte wished ‘to slash her wrist and hope to die’
  10. Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippines’ Mall of Asia


  • ‘I’ll make it,’ says young ferry passenger to family
  • Bad weather halts rescue after deadliest Everest disaster
  • Gigi Reyes has no other option but to turn state witness — Santiago
  • US weighing military exercises in Eastern Europe
  • Rains loom in Surigao as LPA nears
  • Sports

  • Nick Calathes suspension a reminder of supplement risk
  • Teague scores 28 as Hawks soar past Pacers in Game 1
  • Warriors beat Clippers in playoff opener
  • Pacquiao top Mayweather contender
  • Rain or Shine, Ginebra clash for No. 6 spot
  • Lifestyle

  • Noli Yamsuan, Cardinal Sin’s ‘official’ photographer: ‘I could smell the aftershave lotion of the Pope’
  • Simplifying and lightening life
  • Where to go for Easter night-out
  • Joe de Venecia visits the Queen Mother of Cambodia
  • Fashionistas flock to designer’s wedding
  • Entertainment

  • Show-biz celebrities’ other choices of summer getaway
  • Why ‘Noah’ can’t dock his ark at Philippine theaters
  • Acclaimed artist goes wild while on holiday
  • Believing in this mermaid
  • Missing Xian
  • Business

  • Top-selling insurance agent opens her dream café
  • Connecting and transacting with one another
  • Building wealth for health
  • Why Mandaue Foam buys, rather than rents, space
  • A workplace of new possibilities
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Epiphany
  • Unpaid creditor vs distressed debtor
  • Moving on
  • From culinary desert to paradise
  • Response to China: ‘Usjaphil’
  • Global Nation

  • Asia seeks Obama’s assurance in territorial spats
  • Cesar Chavez movie sparks memories of Fil-Am labor leaders
  • Filipinos in US poised for success
  • Visas for priests and other faith leaders
  • DOH to continue tracking co-passengers of OFW infected with MERS virus
  • Marketplace