DND closely monitoring situation in Zamboanga City

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Thursday, February 6, 2014


DEFENSE Secretary Voltaire Gazmin assured Thursday that he will personally monitor the situation in Zamboanga City, as the agency intends to step up the military preparedness in the area.

Gazmin attended on Thursday the joint investigation by the committees on national defense and security, and peace, unification and reconciliation into the bloody siege in Zamboanga City last year.

The probe sought to establish the real cause and motives behind the attack and measures on how to avert similar incident in the future.

Gazmin said the Department of National Defense (DND) is after for the criminal prosecution of those behind the bloody siege, particularly the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) guerrillas led by Nur Misuari.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, during the hearing, said the government should seriously consider plans and measures to protect the people of Zamboanga City from another possible attack.

He added that the government must be prepared this time and all the necessary moves to protect innocent lives.

Trillanes, a former military officer, further said that the government should consider appointing a peace negotiator to deal with the MNLF.

Aside from Gazmin, other invited guests during the hearing were Interior Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles, Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco, Zamboanga City Representative Celso Lobregat, representatives of the local police and other local officials.

Lobregat described the siege as an attack on the people of Zamboanga City but he commended the government's "calibrated response."

"If the government did not take that calibrated response, maybe the situation could have become worse," Lobregat said during the hearing.

Lobregat explained the need for the government to have an open mind in similar situation to make sure that peace negotiations will succeed.

Earlier, Lobregat warned that a Supreme Court declaration that the peace pact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is unconstitutional would be a major setback that could only aggravate further the peace situation in Mindanao.

Zamboanga City, a predominantly Christian city in Mindanao, was the site of a daring "invasion" by some 300 MNLF guerrillas in September 2013. The ensuing intense fighting between government troops and MNLF combatants has killed 100 people and displaced thousands others.

Misuari, the founder of the MNLF, has opposed the peace talks between the government and the MILF and vowed to continue fighting for independence in Mindanao even after a peace accord is signed.

The government has issued an arrest warrant against Misuari for being the mastermind of the Zamboanga City siege. He remains at large.

It was also reported that Misuari warned of a much bigger violence in Mindanao if Congress ignores the MNLF plea.

Misuari had sent a request to Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman Senator Teofisto Guingona seeking the joint hearing. The letter, however, did not bear the signature of Misuari. It was signed by lawyer Elly Velez Lao Pamatong, the MNLF's international legal counsel and spokesman.

The MNLF's request is for Congress to ferret out the truth behind the Zamboanga City siege by way of a bicameral investigation. It sought to investigate "events that transpired before, during, and after" it.

"In the light of the fact that — if this request is left unheeded — another violent upheaval, far greater than the Zamboanga crisis, could erupt in (Mindanao), the undersigned prays — on bended knees — for your Honor's most favorable answer to this request from the only OIC-recognized organization of the Bangsamoro people," Misuari's letter read.

The OIC or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation granted the MNLF an observer status on May 16, 1977.

Misuari also want the government to answer why the government failed to help the family of the late Sultan Jamalul Kiram III "in their attempt to regain their property rights over Sabah, over which the Philippines has territorial sovereignty."

Third, Misuari also asked for an investigation on the government's inaction on Malaysia's actions against Filipinos who were helpless in North Borneo.

Fourth, Misuari wanted unearthed why the government still signed on October 15, 2012 the Framework Agreement on the Bangsaromo (FAB) in spite of the MNLF's best fighters already members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and what he called Malaysia's "over-intrusive" role in the FAB signing.

"With all due respect, the recent crisis in Zamboanga is too important to be completely ignored by (the) blue ribbon committee of the Upper House of Congress," he said.

According to report, Misuari expressed willingness to appear before the Senate for the hearing but only if he will be given "safe passage to and from his headquarters in Sulu" and with an OIC official accompanying him, preferably from Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Deles, in an interview, told reporters that they have received information that Misuari is still in the country.

She said it is important for the intelligence community to do its work in order ensure that the seige will not happen again in the future.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III, who filed Senate Resolution 471 directing the Senate committee on peace, unification and reconciliation to conduct an inquiry on the FAB and the Annexes contained within, said the government must exert all effort to make sure that they are capable to meet the challenges of the impending passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Guingona said the signing of the FAB between the government and the MILF is a major step towards achieving peace and stability in Mindanao.

"This is the closest we have ever been to finally achieving genuine and lasting peace in Southern Philippines. It is our duty as Filipinos to have a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges we will be facing as a nation and fully grasp the different implications of passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law," said Guingona.

He said that considering the importance of the peace process and impact on the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a deeper understanding about the agreement is imperative both for the Congress and the public.

Senate President Franklin Drilon confirmed that not only the Senate but its counterpart House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte agreed that the enactment of Bangsamoro basic law should be made by the end of this year 2014.

Drilon, who had a closed-door meeting on Thursday with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission led by Mohagher Iqbal, said the Transition Commission is committed to submit its first draft of the basic law by March 31, 2014.

Drilon said the chamber will wait for the version of Malacanang, which he also clarified, would not require an amendment to the Constitution.

Earlier, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile said the government and the public should be careful of this deal as he explained that this matter could raise constitutional issues.

"We have to study that very carefully. It involves a very major security and political issue and constitutional problem for the country so we cannot just make a judgment on that until you have seen and read the whole text of the agreement," he said.

Under proposed peace deal, the MILF agreed to end violence in exchange for the establishment of Bangsamoro, a political entity vested with sovereign powers similar to those enjoyed by a federal state.

The Bangsamoro will replace the existing five-province Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm), an offshoot of the l996 peace agreement signed by the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the forerunner of the MILF.

Enrile said the final agreement could raise constitutional questions because it involved the country's territory and its subdivisions, adding that Filipinos should not be swayed by the plaudits that the agreement had received from countries and international organizations.

Drilon, for his part, said: "We're not saying the Bangsamoro people can't advocate for Charter change. What we're just saying is that the basic law is not the avenue through which the amendments can be done because Congress in a debate on the basic law can't propose amendment to the Constitution. We are limited on the four corners of the Constitution."

The government and the MILF peace panels recently signed on the last annex contained in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The Framework Agreement outlines the general features of the political settlement between the government and the MILF. It defines the structure and powers of the Bangsamoro entity that will replace the Armm. Its annexes include processes and mechanisms for the transition until the 2016 regular election for the new Bangsamoro autonomous political entity. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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