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2013: ‘Explosive’ Year for Mindanao (Second of two parts)

DEPRESSING SIGHT – This file photo dated November 16, 2013, shows the once state-of-the-art Joaquin F. Enriquez Sports Complex in Zamboanga City that was turned into an evacuation center for thousands of people who were displaced by the 23-day standoff between government soldiers and Moro National  Liberation Front rebels last September. (Nonoy E. Lacson)

DEPRESSING SIGHT – This file photo dated November 16, 2013, shows the once state-of-the-art Joaquin F. Enriquez Sports Complex in Zamboanga City that was turned into an evacuation center for thousands of people who were displaced by the 23-day standoff between government soldiers and Moro National Liberation Front rebels last September. (Nonoy E. Lacson)

Mindanao was rocked by atrocities in 2013, which claimed the lives of many people, displaced thousands of residents, and destroyed millions of pesos worth of properties and infrastructure.

But the 23-standoff between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels loyal to founding chairman Nur Misuari in Zamboanga City remains the most destructive.

The siege lasted for three weeks marked by sporadic fighting, as the military engaged the MNLF in “close quarter battle.”

Residential houses, buildings, and other structures were totally destroyed by fires.

Misuari signed a peace accord with Manila in 1996, but the rebels accused the government of violating parts of the agreement.

The group also felt excluded from new negotiations between the government and a larger rival faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which separated from the MNLF in 1978.

Due to the atrocities, thousands of people evacuated to the state-of-the-art Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Complex for fear of being caught in the crossfire.

The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) reported that 3,591 houses were destroyed in Barangay Sta. Catalina, 2,113 in Rio Hondo, 1,685 in Kasanyagan, 1,592 in Sta. Barbara, and 1,179 in Mariki.

The OCD also said that 118,819 persons or 23,794 families from 14 barangays (villages) have been affected by the violence, with almost 100,000 people sheltered in 33 evacuation centers in the city.

As the year ends, government efforts are into the rehabilitation of the affected families, but were somehow stalled when super-typhoon “Yolanda” wrecked havoc in the Visayas.

On September 28, 2013, the government declared the end of military operations in Zamboanga City, where Malik, reportedly the leader of the attacking MNLF rebels, was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, a court issued warrants of arrest for Misuari, Malik, Bas Arki, and Assamin Hussin. They have been charged with rebellion and human rights violations.

Misuari, who is the founder of the MNLF, has been accused of allegedly ordering the attacks.

Given the kind of police capabilities and justice system, there is general skepticism whether these bombing cases can really be solved.

But before the curtain falls regarding the “2013: Explosive Year for Mindanao,” the government peace panel and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed an important portion of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, during the 42nd exploratory talks.

In the spirit of attaining peace, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF steadfastly worked on for so many years toward a fruitful conclusion that would benefit not just the Bangsamoro people but the rest of the people in Mindanao.

The government panel stressed that prospects are now brighter than ever for the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

With the peace talks entering the end stage, the Annex on Power-Sharing to the FAB was finally signed in the evening of December 8 – after 16 months of negotiations.

The government and MILF peace panels signed the Annex on Power-Sharing with both parties agreeing that the unresolved issue on “Bangsamoro waters” be treated as an addendum to the annexes on Power-Sharing and Revenue Generation and Wealth-Sharing.

The signing leaves only one more annex unsigned – the Annex on Normalization to finally complete the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that would hasten the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), and to finally give way for the creation of the Bangsamoro autonomous political entity that would replace the 23-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Like the skepticism on law enforcement and justice system, the peace negotiations earn some of them, as well.

Looking back, chaos by way of bombings, siege, hostage-taking, and house burning dominate the headlines for stories coming from Mindanao.

But, Mindanaoans are steadfast in their resolve that everything will come to pass, even as they found ways to help their “kababayans” in the “Yolanda”-affected areas in the Visayas despite the miserable incidents they were into.

It’s not just giving back, they said. It is their way of being positive and being forward looking towards 2014. (Camcer Ordoñez Imam, Malu Cadelina Manar, Ali G. Macabalang, Nonoy E. Lacson, Joseph T. Jubelag, Alexander D. Lopez, Cherry Mae D. Palicte, Vanboyd C. Torres, and Mike U. Crismundo)