Commander Malik wounded?
15 More MNLF Guerrillas Slain In Fresh Fighting
Manila, Philippines – Commander Ustadz Khabier Malik, one of the trusted lieutenants of Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari, was reportedly wounded in one of the rebels’ clashes with government forces in Barangay Sta. Catalina, Zamboanga City.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, 7th Civil Relations Group (CRG) commander, reported the wounding of Malik as the military revealed that 15 more MNLF fighters were killed in the latest firefight with government security forces conducting clearing operations in Zamboanga City.
No Last Stand
These developments only proved the claim of Abdul Sahrin, secretary-general of the MNLF faction chaired by former Cotabato City vice mayor Muslimin G. Sema, that the purported last stand of the remaining loyal followers of Misuari fizzled out.
Malik had sought prayers last Thursday as he vowed to make a last stand after the Friday prayer (Juma’ah).
“The congregational prayer at noon was concluded just past 1 p.m.,” Sahrin said. “We were waiting for Malik’s move if what he said was true,” said Sahrin.
Instead, Sahrin learned from a former MNLF rebel, who is now an officer of the Philippine Army, that Malik could have already escaped to Sulu.
Cabunoc said the military is still verifying the wounding of Malik, the Sulu-based MNLF commander who led 200 to 300 fighters who stormed Zamboanga City before dawn last September 9 and took about 200 civilian hostages.
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office (PAO) chief, said the fighting that resulted in the death of the 15 MNLF gunmen started Thursday night and lasted until early yesterday morning.
15 MNLF Fighters Slain
“We killed 15 members of the MNLF Misuari faction in a single engagement,” said Zagala.
The official did say the exact area of the encounter, except that it occurred inside a “constriction area.” No casualty was reported from the government side.
With the death of 15 more Moro fighters, Zagala said the MNLF in Zamboanga City is now a “defeated force,” noting that the enemy is losing the will to fight considering they are low in ammunition.
According to Cabunoc, the information on the wounding of Malik came from rescued hostages and one of the MNLF men who is now under government custody.
“Wala din namang sundalo na nakakita, gusto nating i-validate,” said Cabunoc, adding that Malik who refused to surrender was reported to have been wounded in the hand.
132 Killed So Far
The violence in Zamboanga City, now on its 19th day, has already claimed 132 lives, among them 18 soldiers, five policemen, 9 civilians, and 100 MNLF gunmen.
Among the 18 slain soldiers were three young officers, all graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
Aside from the fatalities, the military also reported 238 people, including 167 soldiers, 14 policemen, and 57 civilians who have been wounded since Day 1 of the Zamboanga crisis.
Cabunoc cited a wounded member of be 3rd Scout Ranger Company (SRC), who chose to return to the frontline after receiving first aid for his injuries.
Unfortunately, he said, the soldier was again hit, this time in the neck, during succeeding encounter.
The soldier is now in the hospital.
275 MNLF Rebels Under Custody
On the MNLF side, 223 have been captured while 52 have surrendered.
Among the MNLF members who surrendered was 69-year-old Misba Baladji, who took over her dead husband’s role.
The military said Baladji claimed Misuari’s trusted deputy promised them P15,000 to join a “peace march” in Zamboanga City.
Fog Of War
With the conflicting figures reported, Cabunoc attributes discrepancies in the remaining MNLF fighters and hostages to the so-called “fog of war” or the confusion in ascertaining figures in the battlefield.
Cabunoc also stressed that this does not mean that the military is manipulating the figures.
He attributed the changing numbers to the fluidity of the situation in the battlefield and assured that the military is doing all it can to present the figures accurately to the public.
As this developed, government troops seized a wooden-hulled boat and some smaller seacraft called “jungkung” at the islet of Sumatra off the coast of Barangay Talon-Talon after they overrun the islet which was used by the rebels as their camp.
Government troops suspect that the seacraft were used by the MNLF fighters from the provinces of Sulu and Basilan when they invaded the city last Sept. 9.
The military found firearms and ammunition, MNLF uniforms and maps of Zamboanga City including, vital documents, in the blood-stained boats they seized.
The wooden-hulled boat can carry 100 people, while each “jungkung” has a capacity of 30 passengers.
Charges Readied Against Misuari
Meanwhile, the Philippine government is now preparing rebellion and violation of international humanitarian law charges against Misuari and his men in connection with the ongoing standoff.
“Yung mga rebels na hindi nahuli at wala na sa Zamboanga ay kakasuhan natin ng rebellion including Nur Misuari and other commanders,” De Lima told reporters in an interview. (With reports from Edd K. Usman, Nonoy E. Lacson, and Leonard D. Postrado)