Cop freed, rebels surrender-A A +A
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
ZAMBOANGA CITY (Updated) -- The chief of police here who was reported abducted Tuesday by Moro rebels has emerged free hours later after convincing his captors to surrender in a twist to a nine-day hostage standoff in this city, officials said.
Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and police officials told a news conference that Senior Superintendent Jose Chiquito Malayo and three of his men were taken at gunpoint while trying to persuade some Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels to surrender in fighting near the city.
"While trying to convince them, he was taken into custody or held hostage but he kept on convincing them until he succeeded," Roxas told reporters.
The rebels said they had come from a nearby island to join a peaceful protest by their group in Zamboanga but withdrew after firefights erupted between government troops and their comrades, Roxas said, adding police would investigate their claims.
"The important thing here is he (Malayo) was able to enact the surrender," military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said.
The surrender of about 20 rebels came as government troops intensify an offensive to end the standoff that began September 9 when the troops foiled a suspected plan by a larger group of MNLF rebels to take control of Zamboanga.
The military said Monday that it has recaptured 70 percent of the coastal areas occupied by the rebels and rescued more than 100 hostages.
About 64 hostages were freed or escaped during military operations early Tuesday, followed by another 14 who walked to freedom in separate batches. That brought to 116 the number of those rescued in the last 18 hours, Zagala said.
He said more than 100 MNLF rebels were still holding hostages in the remaining pockets they control in five coastal villages in Zamboanga.
Nearly 82,000 residents have fled the fighting into several emergency shelters, including the city's main sports complex.
President Benigno Aquino III has been in Zamboanga since Friday to oversee the handling of the worst security crisis his administration has faced since he came to power in 2010.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda cited Tuesday the "big role" Aquino portrays as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.
"The President is there. He is the Commander-in-Chief. There are military options being exercised there (Zamboanga City) right now. He gives support; he gives directions so he plays a big role," Lacierda said.
"He has inspired the armed forces there, the police forces and also the City Government 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," he added. [Read the related story.]
When asked on what happens to the affairs of government while the President is away, Lacierda said Aquino remains in constant contact with his alter egos in the various agencies who give him updates on the state of government.
"The business of government runs even if he is in Zamboanga City, as he is in touch with Cabinet Secretaries," Lacierda said.
The International Labor Organization (ILO), meanwhile, is closely monitoring the developments in the standoff, said ILO–Philippines Director Lawrence Jeff Johnson.
"We have to know if it's going to be long-term and what could be the economic impact," he said.
Johnson said this is because any armed conflict would almost always result in having negative economic impact that could lead to job losses.
"We know for a fact that that is what happens. So we need to make sure that they are provided social protection so we could avoid the trap that could lead them to that direction," said Johnson.
The Moro insurgents involved in the standoff were followers of MNLF founding leader Nur Misuari. They signed a peace deal in 1996, but the guerrillas did not lay down their arms and later accused the government of reneging on a promise to develop long-neglected Muslim regions in Mindanao.
The rebels have become increasingly restive in recent months as they've been overshadowed by a rival rebel group that engaged Aquino's government in peace talks brokered by Malaysia. The talks have steadily progressed toward a new and potentially larger autonomy deal for minority Muslims in the south. (AP/With SDR/HDT/Sunnex)