MANILA -- Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Ging Deles claimed that members of the Moro National Liberation Front's (MNLF) Nur Misuari faction were only deceived by their founding chairman to stage an attack on Zamboanga City in September last year.
Appearing before the Senate inquiry into the nearly three-week crisis in Zamboanga on Thursday, Deles said the rebel group's siege to the city was the result of Misuari's "manipulation of facts."
"The Zamboanga siege was the result of the manipulation of facts by Misuari and his cohorts to mislead their members into believing that their declaration of independence from the Philippine government is justified," she said.
MNLF fighters attacked Zamboanga on September 9, about a month after Misuari declared independence for Mindanao, Palawan and parts of Malaysia.
The declaration of independence was triggered by what the MNLF claims as the government's abandonment of the tripartite review of the implementation of the 1996 final peace agreement in favor of holding peace talks with an MNLF breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Deles, however, insisted that the government did not at any point "turn its back" on the MNLF, and that Misuari only wanted power over the whole Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
"It can be surmised that their actions are driven by their personal agenda of gaining power. It happened not because Misuari or the MNLF was ignored, but because he was unhappy and the peace process cannot give him what he wants, which is perpetual entitlement to the leadership of ARMM," she said.
She pointed out that another meeting, facilitated by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), had been set in Yogyakarta, Indonesia last September 16.
Misuari committed to attend the meeting, she said.
However, a week before the supposed meeting, MNLF rebels led by Misuari and commander Ustadz Habier Malik attacked Zamboanga, with the plan of raising their flag at the city hall.
Deles also pointed out that Misuari made his members believe that a certain Daniel Xavier, representing the United Nations (UN), expressed support for the MNLF's declaration of independence.
But, she said, upon learning about the rumors, the UN immediately issued a statement saying that there is "no Daniel Xavier in its roster of staff or consultants."
Still reaching out
Deles said the government has been consistent in reaching out to the MNLF not only in connection to the tripartite review of the implementation of the 1996 final peace agreement but also to the peace process with the MILF.
She said the MNLF was never left out in the peace process. It is only the Misuari rebel group that chooses not to join in the talks, she said.
She said they earlier asked the MNLF, both the Misuari and Sema wings, to nominate a member to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, but both declined.
She added that both factions of the MNLF were also invited by the government to join in the drafting of the Bangsamoro basic law. Both, however, again declined.
But despite their continued refusal to participate in the peace process and the attacks they staged in Zamboanga over four months ago, Deles said the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) will continue with their efforts to reach out to the rebel group.
She said the local government of Sulu, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and some former members of the MNLF are currently trying to reach out to Misuari's commanders.
Just this week, she said she had a meeting with Jimmy Labawan, the vice chairman of the MNLF-Misuari faction, regarding the continuation of the tripartite review process.
"We are also receiving assurance that there are members of the faction associated with Misuari but who did not join the Zamboanga siege that they would like to continue with the process," she added.
Deles said, "We are not turning our back to the MNLF."