MAYOR Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar on Monday, May 28, was saddened by the release of 96 accused members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who were involved in the 21-day 2013 Zamboanga siege.
Salazar issued the statement after the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 158 recently ordered the release of 96 MNLF members involved in the siege.
She said though that the City Government will continue to fight for justice for the victims of the siege, which left more than 200 people dead and over a 100,000 residents displaced.
"The City Government is saddened by the release of the accused MNLF members but will continue to fight for justice despite the recent order of the Regional Trial Court," Salazar said.
She said she is still hoping that justice will be served to the victims and that the remaining 100 MNLF (members) accused will be held accountable for the crimes they committed.
Salazar noted that the court ordered the release of the 96 MNLF members "despite the efforts by the City of Zamboanga through the City Legal Officer before the Supreme Court with prayer for a temporary restraining order, stopping the release of the accused MNLF members."
She said the release was a result of the plea bargaining agreement entered into by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the accused, which resulted in the lowering of the penalty imposed on them.
The MNLF members were accused of rebellion and two counts of violation of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in connection with the Zamboanga siege.
The plea bargaining agreement reduced the charges of rebellion and IHL violations, which are punishable by life imprisonment, to a lesser crime of illegal assembly with much lesser penalty of prison term for at least four years.
The freed 96 MNLF members arrived in Zamboanga City Monday morning, May 28, aboard a C-130 "Hercules" cargo plane en route to their respective provinces -- Basilan, Sulu and Zamboanga Sibugay.
The siege started on September 9, 2013 when hundreds of MNLF members loyal to MNLF founding-chair Nur Misuari occupied four coastal villages after they failed to march toward City Hall to raise the flag of the self-proclaimed Bangsamoro Republic.
The siege happened as the group declared independence on August 12, 2013 in Talipao, Sulu. (SunStar Philippines)