Entering it’s eleventh day, the siege of Zamboanga is finally showing signs of its’ end after Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Mar Roxas proclaimed that only 50 of Nur Misuari’s crusaders remain in the city scattered in two different barangays. The news was widely-welcomed, and was anticipated by the Zamboanga business owners and residents who are feeling the burdens of the conflict’s economic costs.
The belligerents loosened its’ hold on the city after intense operations from government forces. Of the initial number of 400 MNLF fighters who trooped to the pre-dominantly Christian city, they have suffered fifty-five fatalities while 130 of their comrades have been captured if government estimations are accurate. Of the almost 200 hostages they took as human shields, the government announced that over 140 have been released, again another welcome piece of news.
While to most this is a sign of promise, it cannot be helped that some would see an eerie resemblance to the 2001 Cabatangan Siege which was also perpetrated by the MNLF and also happened in Zamboanga. The attack was orchestrated by the same Nur Misuari as well, though the Moro luminary was imprisoned in Malaysia during this time; again with the aim of establishing a separate Bangsamoro state with him as its’ leader. The siege had an odd resemblance with the present Zamboanga siege: there were 400 MNLF fighters who took hostage over 140 people and they also seized control of their target in a swift and unexpected raid.
The MNLF forces barricaded themselves inside the Cabatangan City Complex, while setting booby-traps around the area and sniper crosshairs securing every parameter. Through the perseverance of the AFP, the MNLF were reduced to a few dozen rifles and staged a desperate attempt to escape alive. Asking the government for a safe conduct passage the MNLF dragged their hostages with them as human shields, defying the conditions of the truce with the government, whilst firing at AFP personnel and getting away with the rebellion. The siege occurred just a few weeks after another attack by Misuari and his MNLF on a military camp in Sulu province, which halted after the government dealt a cease-fire agreement with the promise of negotiation with his group.
This was an embarassing moment for the then newly-installed administration of President Gloria Arroyo, as well as the commander in-charge of the siege: Lt. General Roy Cimatu. Immediately after this gaffe in their military strategy, the commander-in-chief at that time made this bold statement: “This would be the last hurrah for the MNLF”.
This was twelve years ago, and Misuari has made more than a dozen attacks since.
It’s 2013 and Nur Misuari is at it again, after declaring independence in August and scaring residents with posters and flyers of a legitimate Moro state in Zamboanga, he has laid his first course of action by laying siege to the city. After intense operations by the military, and suffering several casualties as well as demoralized troops, Misuari is again on the backfoot as expected.
Perhaps the most salient remark he made was that he “did not order the attacks” nor did he support them, according to him. It was all the work of sub-commanders who were coincidentally loyal to him and used his name in staging the attack. It would be decent to listen to Misuari’s defense, but since he made this claim so late in the siege when it was clear he would end up the loser only makes it pathetic and cowardly.
However, this is Nur Misuari we are talking about. The man who claims to be the messiah of the Bangsamoro, the man with exceptional wit and remarkable intelligence, the once University of the Philippines political studies professor who was given the task of uplifting the lives of his fellow Bangsamoros by being appointed ARMM governor in virtue of the 1996 Peace Agreement with the Ramos administration; only to use his resources, intended for development, in lavish Middle East tours and reported stays in posh hotels in Manila. This is the man who is so obsessed with sending his troops to the battlefield and is so adamant in his claims yet never setting foot in a warzone himself. The man who had bore witness to decades of infighting and bloodshed, mostly by his commands, and still calls himself to be an ambassador for peace.
It is absolutely ridiculous how an intelligent person would act in such conduct, some would say that his absurd behavior can be blamed on a mental disorder. But if we can muster the arrogance to doubt Nur’s sanity, we should also consider our elected leaders to be just as irrational and insane since they fall for the same farce over and over again.
How many times have we offered the hand to our enemies only for us to be backstabbed and betrayed? Peace deals with the MNLF certainly is not rare, it has been talked about for years. The 1996 Peace Deal was suppose to be the icing on the cake, the monumental accord that would make the MNLF lay down their arms. Instead, five years later in 2001 Misuari runs amok with his troops once again as his term as MNLF governor comes to an end. As his attack on an Army camp in Sulu is thwarted, he flees to Malaysia only to be imprisoned five days later. He is allowed to be put under house arrest instead in 2006 then in 2007, his loyalists take 18 Marines captive in Sulu.
War is never a pleasant thing, but there are times when it is the only humane solution. Just as a farmer puts down his cow when it breaks a leg to ease its’ pain as well as the burden it gives to himself, war should also be allowed to euthanize the suffering caused by these bandits. The MNLF-Misuari group are prime candidates for such action.
It is a pity that none of our recent governments have understood this logic. While it is true that our armed forces maintain a feeble inventory of hardware, they are capable of defending our sovereignty from such terrorists. What is the use of keeping soldiers when our course of action is to always compromise with the enemy? And how far will we go in terms of compromise as well? Who are we willing to compromise with? Surely not all, since separatists all have different aims and do not agree with one another.
Part of the reason the MNLF are waging war again is because the government has agreed to deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the faction of the MNLF who separated from Misuari due to disagreement over the terms of the 1996 Peace Deal. The government finds itself in a catch-22 situation, if they are willing to please the MILF, who are also causing havoc in Mindanao, they will have to deal with the MNLF militarily and vice-versa.
It is painful to see scenes of the evacuating Zamboanga City residents, they flee their homes and livelihood while cowering from the wild bullets and shrapnels threatening them. It will be tragic if we allow the perpetrators of this iniquity to not only be allowed to go unpunished, but still be allowed to operate as a legitimate political and social unit and become benefactors of tax-funded development funds from the government. The ARMM experiment failed and people like Misuari are the reasons for that failure.
Now, President Aquino has declared that the conflict is almost over. Only a few dozen of Misuari’s ‘blind followers’ are left in the city and their supplies of ammunitions and food are running out fast. Most of their comrades have either surrendered or have been killed by government forces. This is a good development for the city and its’ evacuees and a multi-billion peso rehabilitation fund has been earmarked to compensate for the material damage done. But what about the non-material damage: the traumatized evacuees, the lost of confidence from investors as well as the families who would never see their dead loved ones again? No amount of money can compensate for that.
The only remedy that would work best to right the wrongs is to ensure that this does not happen again, and in a volatile and tumultuous region like Mindanao, especially the ARMM, ensuring lasting peace is an extremely difficult promise to make. And why wouldn’t it when bandits and rogue militants roam freely and warlords have power over local government units? These problems need to be addressed first.
The siege of Zamboanga may end soon, but this is by no means an indication that Misuari or the MNLF will halt their shenanigans for good. For all we know, while our eyes are glued to this conflict there is already another plot in the works.