MANILA, Philippines - Nur Misuari's faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that has laid siege on Zamboanga City for days is on its way to war, a spokesman of the rebel leader said Friday.
Nur’s spokesperson Rev. Absalom Cerveza in a radio interview said that the rebel group chose the track of war over diplomacy after it declared de facto independence last month.
"Yung impression na nagpunta sila roon para sa isang peace caravan, hindi totoo 'yun. This is a war for independence!" Cerveza said.
While Misuari supposedly established a federated state "Bangsamoro Republik" in Sulu, the group is claiming its full autonomy through force, Cerveza revealed.
"If you win in the war, you will gain your independence. So it happened. MNLF followed this track to gain its independence," the spokesman said.
In a statement Thursday titled "Causes of the Sudden Eruption of Filipino-Moro War in Zamboanga City," the MNLF blamed the hostilities in Zamboanga City to President Benigno Aquino III, whom they claimed to have "total disrespect" of the 1996 Peace Agreement between the group and the government.
"Consciously or unconsciously, President Aquino might have forgotten the fact that the original ARMM was the creation of his mother's government and that it was rejected by both the MNLF and the (58-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation)," the MNLF said in the statement.
It also claims that Aquino did not heed former President Fidel Ramos' advise to engage Misuari in a peace dialogue on the complete implementation of the deal.
"The Aquino administration wanted people to believe that the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is a 'failed experiment' that has to be replaced by a new concept autonomy embodying the future 'Bangsamoro'," the MNLF said.
It was referring to the pending creation of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region through a framework agreement with the MNLF-breakaway group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Misuari ordered the siege
Cerveza also denied reports that Misuari, who proclaimed himself president of the new state, disowned the Zamboanga attack led by MNLF Commander Habier Malik.
He said that Misuari never disowned Malik and "never disowned responsibility" for the hostilities.
The report came from Zamboanga City Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco who "misinterpreted" her conversation with the MNLF chairman on the phone, Cerveza said.
Cerveza said that Malik is acting under direct orders from Misuari. The MNLF leader is believed to be in the country but will soon fly to Indonesia for tripartite talks with Indonesian officials and Philippine negotiators.
"It is obvious na hindi naman puwede mag-ano si Malik na without the blessing of the chairman. And the chairman has never disowned or denied the responsibility sa mga nangyayaring ito," he said.
This confirms the Armed Forces of the Philippines' statement that Misuari is behind the attacks and that Malik was not acting on his own.
Climaco said on Friday that a ceasefire has been called to facilitate a dialogue between the government and Misuari's faction as the standoff enters its fifth day.
Climaco said that the ceasefire, which took effect early Friday, first aims for the safe release of 100 believed hostages under Malik.
Malacañang had warned the MNLF rebels to stand down and end the conflict.
"While the government is exhausting all avenues for a peaceful resolution to the situation, let it be clear to those defying us that they should not entertain the illusion that the state will hesitate to use its forces," Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda had said.
"It is time for you to cooperate to resolve this situation peacefully at the soonest possible time," he said.
The most serious security crisis to hit Aquino's administration began Monday when about 200 armed Moro rebels, who have been overshadowed by a rival group in talks with the government for a new Muslim autonomy deal, clashed with government troops who had foiled their plan to march through Zamboanga city and hoist their flag at the city hall.
They then barged into five coastal villages and seized scores of residents to use as human shields as hundreds of elite army troops and police, backed by tanks, helicopters and navy gunboats, surrounded them.
Government forces engaged the rebels in a daylong exchange of gunfire Thursday in Santa Catalina village, where the insurgents were holding some of their hostages. The fierce clash ignited a blaze that gutted about 30 houses. Two Huey helicopters hovered as dark smoke billowed from the rebel-held coastal community. - with the Associated Press