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Misuari has plenty to answer for
Publication Date : 12-10-2013
Nur Misuari has been down this road before. In November 2001, his followers exploded into a violent rampage that led to weeks of fighting and scores of civilian deaths and displacement.
It wasn’t because of some lofty fight for independence or self-assertion. Misuari was simply piqued that he was about to lose his position as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which, despite the billions of pesos poured into it by the government, had remained an economic backwater under his watch.
That bloody tantrum led to charges of rebellion against Misuari and his followers. He escaped to Malaysia, but was arrested and sent back to the Philippines.
What happened next has crucial bearing now that Misuari has once again been up to his old bellicose tricks: He was able to post bail, and in time was acquitted for supposed lack of evidence.
And that’s how, despite his history of turning to organised violence the moment his personal interests appeared to be threatened, Misuari has remained unaccountable for the havoc he and his men wrought in Mindanao in 2001.
The recent move by the government to charge him and 82 of his followers in the Moro National Liberation Front with rebellion and crimes against humanity in connection with the three-week-long fighting in Zamboanga City that began on September 9 should right the injustice somehow—but only if the government can prosecute the charges down to their just resolution.
Misuari has plenty to answer for, and the extent bears constant repeating: according to reports, some 18,819 men, women and children displaced by the fighting and ending up crammed in 35 evacuation centers; nine civilians (including children), 19 soldiers, five policemen, and 138 rebels killed; and 57 civilians, 167 soldiers and 14 policemen wounded in 19 days of fighting.
Add to that about 10,000 houses and buildings burned or destroyed—the estimated damage amounting to over 200 million pesos (US$4.6 million).
The Department of Justice also accuses Misuari and his men of violating international humanitarian law by taking noncombatants as hostages and using them as human shields. In the villages of Mariki, Rio Hondo, Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina, Kasanyagan, Talon-Talon and Mampang, residents were reportedly distributed to buildings and houses to ward off attacks by government forces.
Specifically, the use of human shields at the forefronts of Lustre Drive in Santa Barbara and Martha Drive in Santa Catalina is said to have resulted in 12 deaths and injuries to about 70.
But more than the physical destruction, the psychological wounds inflicted on Zamboanga, a thriving economic and cultural hub in the region, are far harder to measure.
“Catastrophic” was how Zamboanga City Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Cholo Soliven once described the state of the city.
The violence that Misuari employs every time he meets unfavorable political circumstances must have its last sorry casualty in Zamboanga.
By sending his armed followers to foment trouble as a way to throw a monkey wrench into the proposed peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the former freedom-warrior-turned-failed-ARMM-administrator showed that, at this late stage, noble notions of peace for his kinsmen and people in Mindanao are no longer of paramount consideration. His fight, no matter the misery and devastation it entails, is all about staying politically relevant.
It’s time to make him face a simple fact: He had his chance, and he blew it. Except the blow-up had to happen elsewhere, against a city and its innocent population, on a pretext that even his followers are said to have only a foggy notion of.
If reports are to be believed, many of them got roped into the fighting on the promise of a few thousand pesos of reward money. Where was the money coming from, and who supplied the ammunition—abundant, well-placed—for a supposed spontaneous act of insurrection?
The charges against Misuari et al. must stick this time—and the pursuit of accountability for what happened in Zamboanga must extend to whoever encouraged, bankrolled and ultimately benefited from the bloody caper that he instigated. If he gets away again, Mindanao—and any prospects for peace in the region—will be a perennial hostage to his whims and caprices. The man has become a dangerous nuisance.