Philippines to OIC: Attacks Against MNLF Members Are Not Attacks Against MNLF

Apr. 17, 2007

Department of Foreign Affairs
2330 Roxas Blvd., Pasay City, Philippines ? Tel. No. 834-4000 ?

Response of the hon. Alberto G. Romulo Secretary of Foreign Affairs To the Statement of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on the situation in the southern Philippines

17 April 2007

The Philippine Government appreciates the commitment of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to the peace process in the Southern Philippines and to the 1996 Peace Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The Philippine Government is committed to the full implementation of the 1996 Peace Agreement. This commitment has been enunciated by no less than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who has declared on several occasions that the comprehensive, just and durable peace in the Southern Philippines is part of the Government’s ten-point legacy program.

In recent years, the Philippines, like many other countries, has been the target and victim of terrorist acts by groups such as the Jemaah Islamiyah (Jl) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) that do not differentiate between soldiers or innocent civilians, adults or children, and have only wreaked havoc and chaos. It is an undeniable fact that there are terrorist groups operating in the Philippines, and we are determined to vigorously pursue these lawless elements for the benefit of our people. The Philippine Government, in cooperation with the regional and the international community at large, is at the forefront of the fight against international terrorism.

On the recent incident in the island of Sulu in the Southern Philippines, I wish to state the following points:

First, the Philippine Government did not launch any military operations against the MNLF. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has not directed any attacks against any MNLF group. Whenever the AFP decisively engages the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which usually seeks safe haven in “no fire areas” recognized as MNLF areas, the AFP coordinates with the MNLF and requests that they temporarily vacate those areas. This cooperation mechanism seeks to ensure that there are no encounters between the AFP and MNLF in the course of law enforcement operations targeting the ASG and other lawless, terrorist elements in Sulu.

This happened on 7 April 2007, when the AFP was pursuing ASG elements in Sulu. After coordinating with the AFP for about three days, eight commanders and 120 MNLF elements vacated the area and proceeded to their own safe haven. However, some MNLF elements led by Commander Adjibon chose to stay in the area. On 11 April 2007, the AFP pushed through with its pursuit of the ASG but bypassed the location of Commander Adjibon. The operation lasted for five hours.

On the evening of 13 April 2007, an AFP outpost in Sulu was hit by mortar fire by MNLF forces under the command of Habier Malik. The next target was the Panamao Municipal Hall. The mortar fire on military and civilian positions left two soldiers and 15-year old Annanas Abdugaram dead. A dozen other soldiers and civilians were injured in the subsequent mortar attacks that targeted the Panamao High School and the Panamao Municipal Building.

The AFP was constrained to counter these attacks and proceed to the Camp Jubal Uhod under Commander Malik. On 14 April 2007, an operation was launched that resulted in the seizure of Malik’s camp by late afternoon of the same day.

The military action that took place was a punitive action against the person of Ustadz Habier Malik and others, for their acts of violence and violation of internal laws. Malik is being made to answer for the consequences of his acts as a violator of law and not as a member of the MNLF.

The extreme and violent actions of Commander Malik do not reflect the sentiment of the other MNLF commanders who did not heed his call for support and instead cooperated with the military by allowing military operations against the ASG and Camp Jubal Uhod under the Command of Malik.

The Philippine Government has already taken swift action to redress the immediate needs of MNLF communities affected by this wanton display of violence by Malik.

Second, such irresponsible display of lawlessness adversely affects peace and order, but will not distract the Philippine Government from its commitment to bring peace and development to the island of Sulu and the Southern Philippines.

Finally, the Philippine Government appreciates the initiative of the OIC in proposing “the constitution of a small military monitoring mission to observe the suspension of military operations.” However, it must be clarified that there are no military operations against any MNLF group, and there is no suspension of military operations that needs to be monitored. END

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