By TYRONE A. VELEZ
Davao City — Bayan Muna Partylist filed a resolution Thursday calling for a Congressional probe on what triggered the Moro National Liberation Front to enter Zamboanga City, leading to the present standoff that already displaced more than 110,000 residents.
This came amid call from peace advocacy and human rights groups for an independent probe on reported violation of international humanitarian law in the course of the gunbattle that ensued.
In House Resolution 302, Bayan Muna asked the committee on peace, reconciliation and unity to investigate whether or not the government terminated the tripartite review of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF, which claimed that this provoked their members to march into Zamboanga City on September 9.
MNLF spokesperson Atty. Emmanuel Fontanilla said the mass-up of MNLF troops in Zamboanga City came in reaction to the reported termination of the review, and at the same time, to protect MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari from “possible arrest following his declaration of independence”.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles earlier denied that government pulled out from the tripartite review, saying it has “continually (engaged) the MNLF in pursuant to the 1996 Final Peace Agreement like providing identified MNLF areas with PAMANA projects”.
The website of OPAPP noted that the Indonesian Embassy has postponed the fifth meeting of the review scheduled last September 16 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
The probe also wanted to look at how the local government reacted to the announced plants of an MNLF gathering in Zamboanga City, based on reports that City Mayor Isabelle ‘Beng’ Climaco-Salazar has asked support that time from the Armed Forces of the Philippines to stop the MNLF gathering.
Meanwhile, Congress leaders filed House Resolution No. 03 calling for voluntary contribution from lawmakers of at least P10,000 to be deducted from representatives’ monthly salary.
President Benigno Aquino III announced he would give P3.89 billion to assist 100,000 evacuees in resettlement, education, livelihood and other relief needs. The money would to be taken from the contingency and calamity funds. He said he might also tap into his lump-sum funds, which were criticized as ‘presidential pork barrel’.
The Moro organization Suara Bangsamoro, which has a chapter in Zamboanga City, supported the call for a probe.
“Someone has to be accountable for this humanitarian crisis, where thousands are made to suffer and children getting sick in evacuation centers,” said Suara spokesperson Neil Murad.
Murad said there were “more people staying in abandoned facilities that are unaccounted by the city’s Crisis Committee. Many people are still hiding out of fear from both sides,” he said.
He claimed that Mayor Climaco earlier talked with Misuari and an MNLF commander on the night before the MNLF entered Zamboanga. “What did they talked about? Why did it lead to this standoff?”
He wondered why the MNLF planned rally erupted into a full blown battle in Zamboanga City, |when its rally in Davao City last August was peaceful, when both activities had the same purpose for the MNLF”.
Murad said evacuees they talked to want the crisis to end immediately.
The US-based Human Rights Watch said accounts of civilian rights abuses were reported from both parties of the conflict.
The group said it interviewed people who said they were held by the MNLF as “human shields”.
“A confrontation in Zamboanga in which the rebels hid behind hostages and the army fired on them shows how ugly this fighting became,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Both sides need to do all they can to prevent further loss of civilian life.”
Murad questioned why both local and national government took military action when reports of the MNLF trooping to the city were already spreading weeks before the incident.
However, the group said that suspected MNLF rebels they interviewed reported that state security forces tortured them through various means.
“Human Rights Watch interviewed six suspected MNLF rebels jailed at the Zamboanga Central Police Office who alleged that they had been mistreated. Five said police or military agents interrogated them by putting a plastic bag over their head, suffocating them. They said they were also punched and kicked by their interrogators. The suspects said their interrogators sought to force them to confess to being MNLF members. One told Human Rights Watch he admitted as much because he “couldn’t stand the pain anymore.” An elderly detainee alleged that his interrogators blindfolded him and dunked his head into a toilet bowl twice. Another said alcohol was poured into his nose to get him to confess,” their statement said.Bayan Muna, human rights watch, zambo, zamboanga crisis, Zamboanga MNLF-AFP tension