These recent armed clashes between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Zamboanga is characterized by confusion, disinformation, utter disregard for human lives, and grave human rights violations.
According to our latest update, this senseless violence has left 53 killed and 70 wounded. There are now 25,000 evacuees. Hundreds of homes were burned. The local economy had been badly hurt, it exacerbated the already impoverished condition among the common people.
Differing Stories by Various Factions of the MNLF. Rev. Absalom Cerveza, an evangelical pastor who joined the MNLF and became its spokesperson, was quoted saying that they have chosen the path of war over a failed diplomatic approach to gain their independence. A few weeks before this incident, Mr. Nur Misuari, the founding chairman of MNLF, felt betrayed when the Philippine government withdrew from 1996 peace pact review. For him, the government’s withdrawal amounted to the abrogation of the 1996 Peace Accord between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the MNLF. So, he made a unilateral declaration of independence of the Bangsamoro Republik from the Republic of the Philippines. The Bangsamoro Republik, in the mind of this faction of MNLF, includes Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Palawan.
Another spokesperson, Atty. Emmanuel Fontanilla, informed the public last Monday morning that, indeed, they have entered and took over several villages in the City of Zamboanga through military force.
Meanwhile, one of the official MNLF Facebook pages consistently claimed that those men who entered Zamboanga City in the morning of September 09 were fake MNLF elements. Mr. John R. Petalcorin, the page administrator and one claiming to be the MNLF Director of Advocacy reporting directly to Nur Misuari, issued a general order:
GENERAL ORDER FOR THE MNLF
Stay at home or somewhere safe, maintain a low profile, and avoid any trouble. But be ready to protect your life and your family if your household is harassed. The genuine MNLF is not involved in that chaos in Zamboanga and nearby towns. Don’t get swayed by the bandwagon of media. If your senior officers in the unit would ask you to prepare for a combat mission, please report the name to me 0921-7172040 so I can warn you if that person is in the list of the over 200 Fake MNLFs that we intercepted. Allahuakbar!
The following are the major Counterfeit MNLF operators in Zamboanga and Basilan area. Please do not obey any kind of instructions (especially combat recruitment instructions) from these persons.
George Sampang, Abdulsalim Laki Wahi, Bulleng Montong, Kiram Abdullah, Ocacc Mohammad, Hj. Sahipa Walsa, Manalbang Tahil, Tuan Samili, Usman Powa, Degte Ibrahim, Akramin Menembanl, Nurmina Mahamud, Afdar Salik, Hj. Abbas Tangkian, Min Alam, Hb. Andang Hashim, Lacson Sawadjaan, Abdullajid HB. Hussein, Hj. Abdua Jakaria, Hatimil Hassan, Jan Jakilan, Mitsuara Hassan, Ustadz Abdulmuhmin Mujamid, Likhab Salahuddin, Aramel Amirin, Datu Bungsu Mursalun, Ustadz Hassan Jaiiani.
The other official MNLF Facebook page, however, has a message that directly contradicts the message above. It gives a link to the official website of the MNLF with the following editorial on its front page:
CAUSES OF THE SUDDEN ERUPTION OF FILIPINO-MORO WAR IN ZAMBOANGA CITY
The Filipino-Moro war raging now in Zamboanga City between the colonial Philippine occupation soldiers and the Bangsamoro freedom fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) could not have occurred if the present Aquino government respected only the September 2, 1996 MNLF-OIC-GRP Jakarta Peace Agreements.
Clearly, it is noted that another factor that led to the Filipino-Moro war now raging in Zamboanga City is the unwarranted harassment and arrest of MNLF harmless members and supporters entering the city. The present AFP-MNLF war in Zamboanga City could have been averted without the tactical design of the colonial city government under Mayor Beng Climaco to block the peaceful rally of the MNLF members and mass supporters. Worst, the harmless MNLF members and supporters were harassed and some were arrested and jailed for committing no crime at all, except only to witness and to participate in a peaceful assembly.
The alarming turn of events just dismayed the MNLF freedom fighters in Zamboanga peninsula, Basilan and Sulu. Thus, they decided to come to the aid and rescue of the persecuted MNLF civilian members, who have come to Zamboanga City from all over Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan.
Demonstrating to the Philippine colonial government that the Bangsamoro people have the legitimate and historical right to proclaim their independence and national self-determination by any possible peaceful means, the MNLF freedom fighters entered the four areas of Rio Hondo, Sta. Catalina, Talon-Talon and Sta. Barbara to press their claim to a peaceful rally and raising publicly the MNLF-Bangsamoro national flag.
However, the colonial Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) occupation soldiers used, as usual, force and firepower to drive them out of Zamboanga City. But the MNLF freedom fighters stood their ground engaging the Philippine military troops equipped with tank reinforcements and helicopter gunships beginning on September 9, 2013.
The military reported that the MNLF forces who went to Zambaonga to declare independence actually came from the neighboring islands of Sulu and Basilan; they were not MNLF elements from Zamboanga City. These armed men from Sulu and Basilan were reportedly under the command of Habier Malik.
On the first four days of this armed crisis, Nur Misuari was nowhere to be found.
Suddenly, on Friday the 13th of September, he surfaced disclaiming Habier Malik and his actions in Zamboanga City. In other words, he’s saying that he’s not responsible for the chaos, deaths, and human rights violations that affected hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in a thickly populated urban center.
If this is true, then who’s giving orders to Habier Malik?
Mr. Mujiv Hataman, Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was interviewed by GMA News. He said that Malik, Fontanilla, Misuari, and Cerveza have differing statements. Hataman also mentioned that he listened to the stories of the spouses and families of MNLF men who travelled from Basilan and Sulu to Zamboanga. He learned that their respective spouses were instructed by their commanders “to join a peace parade” in Zamboanga City.
Inspite of Misuari’s denial of his involvement in this Zamboanga violence, President Benigno Aquino III, in a public interview, made it clear that he will not allow Misuari to get off the hook.
A Conspiracy of Anti-Peace Forces. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in a statement published in their official website, believes that “there is a conspiracy of all anti-peace and anti-MILF forces against the success of the GPH-MILF peace negotiation which is in the last stretch.” This was published in the context of the recent series of bomb explosions in Mindanao that killed 17 and wounded 81 people. “The administration of President Benigno Aquino III is not spared from this conspiracy. It is as much as the target of this hate and shaming campaign as the MILF,” the statement added.
The MILF also added Misuari’s call for independence as among these anti-peace forces.
In another statement, MILF’s spokesperson Von Al Haq, assured the public that the current armed conflict in Zamboanga will not affect the on-going Peace Talks between the GPH and the MILF.
Somehow, the conspiracy theory of the MILF must be considered. Is it really mere coincidence that this military stand off happens a day before the 40th GPH-MILF Formal Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur?
A Distraction Away from the Pork Barrel Issue. It is also possible that this event may be used as a media distraction by powerful people who are involved in one of the major corruption expose involving senior legislators and possibly senior officials in the executive branch. This is popularly known as the pork barrel scandal. Several questions have to be considered in relation to this:
- Why would this armed conflict in Zamboanga happen right at the time when the House Committee on Appropriations will make official the scrapping of $643 million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which is just one of the more than $12B pork barrel funds? Just coincidence?
- Is it really mere coincidence that the witnesses against Janet Lim Napoles who were about to fly to Manila to report to the office of the National Bureau of Investigations got stranded in Zamboanga airport on that fateful Monday morning? Napoles is the alleged mastermind of a major pork barrel fund scam.
- Would the same people who benefited and are still benefiting from an armed conflicted state of Mindanao be connected with the powerful oligarchs who are involved in stealing billions of dollars from the various pork barrel funds?
Our GloCal Perspective. We look at the current AFP-MNLF clash from a global-local (glocal) perspective. The global factor is the intervention of the United States in the internal affairs of smaller countries like the Philippines; this is a view which is articulated by David Stockman — a private equity investor who served as the Budget Director of the Reagan Administration in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, a small segment of our society — who would lose so much of their war-based wealth and power interests — is actively doing a smear campaign against President Benigno Aquino III and is actually working to destabilize the barely budding peace and order in Mindanao. These shadowy forces know how to use desperate personalities and organizations. They can also manipulate armed groups desperately needing financial input. We believe that all these tactical operations are done to advance a strategic political purpose—that is, to maintain the status quo wherein their corruption-based wealth and power would continue to thrive.
These same forces — some are occupying powerful positions within our government and some are apparently opposing our current administration — are behind the war-based economy that enslaves the people of Mindanao and the whole Philippines. They seem to have persuaded President Benigno Aquino III to welcome the increasing presence of the U.S. military in our country.
There’s so much money in this new agreement with the Americans. The $526B US Defense Budget for 2014 includes a promise that calms the psyche of the American tax payers. This budget —
COUNTERS TERRORISM. Protecting the United States from terrorism remains a national security priority. The United States and its allies have had many successes against terrorist groups, but the priority of fighting terrorism remains, even as the specific threats have changed. The Budget continues to prioritize this mission by funding investments that are consistent with the four principles of the National Strategy for Counterterrorism, including: combatting terrorism in ways that are consistent with core U.S. values; building the capacity of our partners to fight terrorism; developing systems and capabilities to defend American citizens and deny terrorists safe havens; and preventing terrorists from developing, acquiring, or using weapons of mass destruction.”
Fiscal Year 2014 Budget of the US Government: Department of Defense
(Office of Management and Budget, p. 71)
A small chunk of this budget would be given to the Philippine government — only if we can prove that there are indeed terrorists in our own backyard.
Then we hear of the Zamboanga armed crisis that is so confusing, so chaotic, so deceiving and so murderous! Even attempts by conflicting parties on the ground towards a peaceful surrender and freeing of hostages is suppressed and hindered by some powerful actors.
This is our own glocal assessment and analysis which is largely influenced by our field experience where we see foreigners operating along with local military personnel.
Because of this painful reality, we resonate with the cry of an ancient Hebrew prophet:
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
But you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4)
Praying with the Body of Christ in the Philippines. And so, we shared our hearts and minds to the evangelical Christian leadership in the Philippines and submitted our humble perspectives. We prayed with them. We did biblical reflection with them. We studied the facts with them.
Then the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches published a pastoral letter to the nation. We resonate with their words:
PCEC STATEMENT ON THE CURRENT ZAMBOANGA CRISIS
The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) is made up of more than 30,000 congregations nationwide who follow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. We follow Jesus for whom loving one’s neighbor is an expression of loving God, and for which reason he rejected the use of violence and retaliation even against one’s enemies.
We are thus convinced that conflicts are best resolved through peaceful means. We believe that the use of violence in Zamboanga City would only claim and injure the lives of people—whether they be government soldiers, MNLF fighters, or civilians—who are equally valuable before the sight of God.
As we express our solidarity with the people of Zamboanga —
:: We call on all the constituencies affiliated with PCEC and all other Christian churches and mission agencies to pray for the peace of our land;
:: We call on His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III and Mr. Nur Misuari to order their respective troops for the immediate ceasefire and cessation of all hostilities;
:: We call on the evangelical churches, ministry organizations and relief agencies to work together with all humanitarian agencies for the protection of civilians and to provide emergency relief to people affected by this violence;
:: We call all parties to immediately engage in a peaceful dialogue to resolve these conflicts;
:: We call on other parties who have caused, or have contributed to this violence in order to protect their corrupt wealth-and-power interests, to repent before God and change your ways. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)
PCEC prays that sustainable peace, based on justice, would be reached between the Government of the Philippines and all the Moro fronts through a peaceful, inclusive, negotiated settlement.
PCEC continually supports the current Peace Talks between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, with prayers that the on-going negotiations in Malaysia between their respective panels would not be affected by the crisis in Zamboanga, and that this GPH-MILF talks would result in a successful comprehensive agreement.
PCEC is earnestly praying that the people of the Philippines would quickly learn to settle our conflicts through dialogue and negotiations in the context of a culture of peace.
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (II Thess. 3:16 NIV)
The Board of Trustees, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches
Bishop Efraim M. Tendero, PCEC National Director, firstname.lastname@example.org. or telephone 9131655-57
Towards a Radical National Transformation. We also believe that in the long run, we have to deal with the factors causing the armed conflicts in our land. Among the major ones is corrupt oligarchy and their practice of patronage politics.
As a segment of the Body of Christ in this country, we have to start with our worldview and a sound biblical-theological framework for our corporate actions. We have been presenting to the evangelical churches a holistic understanding of the Gospel that addresses the need for spiritual transformation, psychosocial transformation, sociopolitical transformation, and economic-ecological transformation.
At the same time, we also recommend to the church leaders and theologians to continue advocating our priority advocacies in the area of Christian social theology and ethics. The evangelicals are now actively contributing to our national transformation by addressing the current Philippine challenges we’re facing as a society. As a start, we have focused our actions on the following:
- Abolish the pork barrel system;
- Reveal, investigate, prosecute all those involved in pork barrel scam – past and present;
- Pass the Freedom of Information Act; and,
- Dismantle the patronage politics of the oligarchs.
Thank you, our global community and partners, for your love, prayers, and support.
May we all experience justice-based peace within us and around us.