People’s lives sacrificed in Zamboanga crisis

Karapatan (

Karapatan scored “self-confessed” peace advocate Chito Gascon’s pronouncement saying Zamboanga crisis was due to a ‘miscommunication and misunderstanding between the government and Misuari’s group’.

“If BS Aquino’s alter-egos in the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) has only this to say, they better shut their mouths up. Or, best they just fold-up and go. The OPAPP is not actually working for peace. It is there to justify and deodorize BS Aquino’s war against the people.”

Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan chairperson added, “the complexity of the Moro situation in Mindanao is more than just a matter of communication. Thousands of civilians were rendered homeless, their sources of livelihood destroyed, some even killed. BS Aquino’s purely militarist solution to the Zamboanga crisis surpassed the damage caused by Misuari’s armed attack. ”

Hilao-Enriquez, cited “Gascon’s statement echoes BS Aquino’s response to the Lahad Datu (Sabah) stand-off. That time, BS Aquino claimed that he did not receive the letter from the Sultan of Sulu seeking for an audience because ‘it was lost in the bureaucratic maze’.

“The government’s disregard for those who seek audience and settle matters on the negotiating table has already cost thousands of lives,” added Hilao-Enriquez, also an independent observer in the GPH-NDF peace talks.

Earlier, Karapatan warned of human rights violations against civilians in the course of the AFP’s operation against the MNLF. In a statement issued on September 19, Hilao-Enriquez said, “We fear a repeat of the Basilan siege in 2001 where close to more than a hundred Moro citizens and youth were arbitrarily arrested on mere suspicion of being Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members.”

“The Moro victims were heavily tortured by Philippine security forces to force them to admit they were ASG members,” Hilao-Enriquez said. “After 12 long years of detention, many of these victims who were members of the so-called Basilan 73, are still imprisoned in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan waiting for court resolution. Most of them are cases of mistaken identity.”

Enriquez was part of the fact finding team that investigated human rights violations during the 2001 AFP siege in Basilan.
As of today, human rights workers in Zamboanga City cited widespread fear among  civilians. “People knew that many of those arrested were not MNLF members but residents in affected barangays. Yet, no one wants to talk for fear of military reprisal. It’s the same story all over again,” said Hilao-Enriquez.

While Misuari must equally answer for the violations he and his men committed, BS Aquino can’t just go to war and crush the dissenters through a purely military solution,” said Hilao-Enriquez, adding “this is not a PSP game where you can simply declare game over or mission accomplished. Lives of real people are involved here, especially the poor who are most vulnerable in this kind of situation.”

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