Groups call for humanitarian ceasefire in Zambo siege-A A +A
Friday, September 13, 2013
AS THE siege of Zamboanga City deepens, several groups have called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to ease civilian suffering, if not, for the parties involved in the armed skirmishes to “delineate a humanitarian corridor” to provide space where the needs of evacuees and even wounded combatants can be taken care of.
In a joint statement, the Mindanao People's Caucus, Initiatives for International Dialogue, Peacebuilders Community, Simcarrd Inc., and the Alliance of Progressive Labor-Davao, said the situation of the evacuees have become “alarming.”
According to a monitoring report of the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, the evacuees have reached close to 3,000 families accounting for over 14,000 individuals as of Wednesday.
The Zamboanga siege, carried out by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces loyal to its founding chair Nur Misuari, entered its fourth day Thursday with civilians being used as human shields as the rebels dig on their positions.
In a statement on Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed concern on the fate of civilians affected by the fresh outbreak of violence.
“We call on those involved in the fighting to act with extreme caution to ensure civilian life and property are spared at all times,” said Pascal Mauchle, head of the ICRC’s delegation in the Philippines.
“We are closely monitoring the evolving situation in Zamboanga. Fighting is taking place in an area of the city where many civilians may still be living," Mauchle added.
Working with the Philippine Red Cross, the ICRC has already deployed volunteers to Zamboanga City, along with the delivery of supplies, to help provide humanitarian relief for displaced residents.
In addition, the ICRC is supporting the temporary medical hospital that has been set up at Western Mindanao State University to care for the wounded and the sick.
The Mindanao civil society groups urged the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to intervene “in resolving the issue” saying that is a way of “sustaining the role” it played in bringing peaceful solutions to the Moro conflict.
The OIC was instrumental in forging a peace pact between government and the MNLF in 1976, and in having such accord spelled out in details through the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) of 1996.
At present, the OIC maintains a special Peace Committee in the Southern Philippines (PCSP), chaired by Indonesia. The PCSP has been chairing the Tripartite Review on the Implementation of the FPA since 2007.
The review involves government, the OIC, and the two major factions of the MNLF.
The review process had generated 42 consensus points on how to enhance the gains of the FPA, which the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) hoped to feed into the process of drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will serve as charter of the new political entity that will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Such entity, called the Bangsamoro, will have far greater political and economic governance powers than the ARMM, based on the consensus of the negotiations between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
May have inspired
A Maranao lawyer who was once part of the legal team of the MNLF has expressed doubts about the real involvement of its founding chair, Nur Misuari, in the siege of Zamboanga City that began Monday.
“I personally heard from him (Misuari) about plans to attack Zamboanga, and even about plans to organize a force to invade Sabah. But I just dismissed these as part of his wishful thinking that could be a function of age,” lawyer Dalidig Sumndad told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro by phone from Marawi City.
“But when I learned that the Zamboanga attack happened, I was really surprised,” Sumndad added.
Sumndad said he was part of the MNLF legal team along with Randolph Parcasio who used to be also a close aide of Misuari. The last time they catered to Misuari’s legal needs was when he was detained at Santa Rosa, Laguna for leading a mutiny in Sulu in 2001.
Sumndad related that Misuari phones him and other former aides from time to time. The more recent ones, which was several months before the ‘Bangsamoro independence’ declaration, featured the two ideas of an attack on Zamboanga and an invasion of Sabah.
“I don’t believe Nur still has the capacity to plan any of these actions at this stage of his life,” Sumndad stressed.
But he hinted the recent actuations and pronouncements of Misuari may have inspired the siege on Zamboanga. Prominent of these is the declaration of independence.
“Our time for asserting independence has past. We have agreed for an autonomous setup with the FPA,” Sumndad said.
Sumndad also explained that even as he dismisses the actual involvement of Misuari in the Zamboanga siege, he disagrees on several ideas that he raised that helped inspire the Zamboanga siege.
One is the notion of government abrogating the 1996 FPA.
“Let this be known that we don’t share the opinion of Nur on this matter,” Sumndad stressed.
In the social media sites such as Facebook, there has been lot of false messages circulating causing confusion and alarm that it prompted Malacañang to issue a statement to set the record straight.
One message circulating on Facebook urged everyone to take precautionary measures as they travel since it is unsafe as MNLF elements will harass travelers and government offices. The alleged message came from the Philippine Marines’ intelligence network.
Malacañang said that groups opposed to the peace process, or who want to impose a peace solely from their viewpoint and on their terms, have sought to create disturbances. “We have witnessed the bombing of Cagayan de Oro City and other similar events,” the palace said.
Executive Secretary Edwin Lacierda said that there have been a lot of text messages circulating, causing confusion and alarm among our people.
Lacierda said that alleged MNLF members wanted to proceed to Zamboanga City bearing arms, supposedly to exercise their right to peaceful assembly.
“But the right to peaceful assembly cannot be exercised while bearing arms. In fact, when they tried to conduct a “peace rally” in Sulu, they were prevented because they were armed. Allegedly, they attempted to do the same in Zamboanga City, where some of their members were arrested by the PNP; others were caught in a firefight in the waters off Zamboanga City by elements of the Philippine Navy. And those seeking safety inside coastal barangays have had to disperse,” Lacierda added.
Lacierda furthered that the forces of the state are ready to exercise the resolve of the government, “While the government is exhausting all avenues for a peaceful resolution to the situation, let it be clear to those defying us that they should not entertain the illusion that the state will hesitate to use its forces to protect our people,” Lacierda said.
“Instead, it is time for you to cooperate to resolve this situation peacefully at the soonest possible time,” Lacierda added.
Lacierda also warned those who seek to take advantage of the situation, “You will fail.”
Lacierda added that there has been an encounter in Basilan on September 12 when members of the Bangsamore Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Abu Sayaff Group (ASG), estimated at around 150, tried to attack Lamitan City. The armed forces stopped them, and after a two-hour firefight, hot pursuit ensued.
“The BIFF and ASG assumed they could take advantage of the situation. They were wrong, as others who will also make similar attempts will be proven wrong,” Lacierda warned.
Lacierda also assured the people of Zamboanga City that the government stands in solidarity with them and is working to ensure their needs are met.
“The President has directed national government agencies to attend to the needs of the people of Zamboanga City and the Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi by providing basic supplies through the Department of Transportation and Communication and Department of Trade and Industry. We have asked the Bangko Sental ng Pilipinas to ensure sufficient supplies of currency.
Lacierda also seeks further cooperation from the people of Zamboanga City: “We reiterate that there are people relishing this situation and who seek to inflame passions for various reasons. Please understand that rumors of abductions of religious leaders and firefights that did not take place, which are spread through anonymous text messages, aim to take advantage of you. Instead, listen to the authorities, who will give you the truth all the time,” Lacierda said.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 13, 2013.