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MNLF – Breakaway groups pollute Zamboanga crisis

Davao City — Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)-Misuari group spokesperson Atty. Emmanuel Fontanilla said breakaway groups of the MNLF are just polluting the situation in Zamboanga City.

Fontanilla made the accusation in reaction to the earlier declaration of other MNLF groups disowning responsibilities to the current crisis in Zamboanga.

Fontanilla said MNFL founding chairman Professor Nur Misuari’s group is the legitimate one, as proven when it signed the Tripoli Agreement, and the final peace agreement with the government in 1996.

“It was Chairman Misuari who signed the final peace agreement with the Government of the Philippines, he signed the Tripoli agreement, and is recognized by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), and other international bodies,” Fontanilla told the Manila Bulletin.

When asked if Misuari would come out and issue a statement on the current situation, Fontanilla said “the chairman preferred not to talk.”

“The situation is highly complicated legal matter,” he said, the reason why Misuari would not say anything for the meantime.

Fontanilla added that even President Aquino is not talking about the Zamboanga situation, the more reason that Misuari would also not issue a statement, he said.

“It’s the military who is talking right now,” he said, adding that it is highly questionable why the government allows the military to talk and find solution regarding the crisis.

Recently, two more factions of the MNLF disowned the attack in Zamboanga that killed several people, wounding civilians, and displacing thousand of families.

The group also reiterated their continued allegiance to the 1996 peace accord.

“Don’t pollute the situation,” Fontanilla called on the other MNLF groups, saying that it is only Misuari who is recognized in all agreements and international organizations.

He also urged the government to treat the current Zamboanga crisis as a political one, not military.

“The military cannot solve the present crisis,” he added, citing the Tripoli agreement and the final peace accord as concrete political solutions that the MNLF had entered into for peace in Mindanao.

Datu Muslimin Sema, chairman of the MNLF who is based in Cotabato City, said that while his group has recognized the “struggle” launched by Misuari in Zamboanga, they are not “one with them in spirit.”

“As usual, we are for peace. We will exhaust all peaceful means to resolve a conflict. Even the conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),” Sema said.

While Datu Dima Ambil, commander of the MNLF-Sebangan Kutawato Revolutionary Committee (MNLF-SKRC) based in Matalam, North Cotabato, has also expressed his commitment to peace-building in Mindanao.

Ambil, Sema’s commander in North Cotabato, said they are working closely with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), and the local government units (LGUs) to ensure peace in the region.

He also assured there is no “spill over” of the Zamboanga standoff in his area-of-responsibility.

“There is no reason for us to bring the conflict in Zamboanga City here in North Cotabato,” said Ambil.

Meanwhile, a Mindanao-based human rights group yesterday said it appeared that other members of the MNLF are not joining the fighting in Zamboanga.

The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC) relayed this to members of the media as it gives out updates on the incident.

The MinHRAC is based in Cotabato City, but it has satellite offices in other parts of Southern Philippines.

“As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, MNLF members in various provinces, notably Zamboanga Peninsula (Del Norte, Del Sur, and Sibugay) but also in Central and Southern Mindanao are standing down,” the group said.

The group also reported that a priest, Fr. Michael Ufama, was “taken into custody by armed men in Sta. Catalina,” which it said was attested by an eyewitness and another source.

The MinHRAC said a “heavy exchange of fire” occurred Tuesday morning in the villages of Rio Hondo, Sta. Catalina, and Sta. Barbara.

“This is the heaviest exchange of gunfire yet, including the use of mortars,” the group said.

It said update reports come from its grassroots monitors stationed in the said provinces.

The MinHRAC, headed by lawyer Zainuddin Malang, said that in Sulu, home province of Misuari, “there is no reported movement or sympathy strikes.”

The group said the non-mobilization of MNLF forces, if it goes on, the chances of the conflict spilling into other provinces is lower.

“It also indicates either there was no concerted plan to conduct a general offensive all over Mindanao,” the MinHRAC said.

On Monday, two other MNLF groups headed by former Cotabato City Vice Mayor Muslimin G. Sema, and Habib Mujahab Hashim disowned the Zamboanga City incident.

Fontanilla said the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) between MNLF and GPH has a ceasefire mechanism that can be harnessed in problems like the one in the city.

He said that “we have been calling on them, because of the international agreement (FPA) entered into by the two parties duly supported by 57 countries.”

The 57 countries he was referring to, obviously, are the members of the OIC, which brokered the negotiations from 1992 to 1996 that resulted to the FPA.