Freed principal says her MNLF captors wanted to swap her for 24 comrades PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 06 April 2014 14:07

Benita Enriquez Latonio, the principal of Manggal Elementary School, released by kidnappers on Thursday, said her captors were MNLF members of the Nur Misuari faction that attacked Zamboanga City on September 9 last year.

Latonio said in a recorded interview that her captors were angry at Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for not helping them ask the government to release their 24 comrades who were captured after a series of fierce gunbattles with government forces during the Sept. 9 siege.

Latonio said she asked her captors why are they angry at teachers and principals in Basilan where she was seized, and the rebel-captors blamed them for helping Hataman win the gubernatorial post of ARMM in the election two years ago.

The principal explained to her captors that it’s the people who put Gov. Hataman in the top post of ARMM.

The MNLF gunmen told Latonio they kidnapped her to asked the government to release their 24 comrades who are now detained in a police camp in Manila.

The 62-year-old school official said she was released by the MNLF captors who took pity on her because she is old and weak.

Latonio said she and the captors trudged through rugged hills for hours in the hinterland of Sumisip township, Basilan  to escape pursuing government troops.

She said her captors took her 1,500 pesos and used it to buy food in from mountain farmers for her meals.

“I believe God helped me for the freedom I have now,” she said.

She said the captors asked her to call her superior to relay their message to government troops not to attempt any rescue operation because it will result to her death.

Latonio was seized last Monday by gunmen wearing balaclava while she was aboard a passenger vehicle on its way to IIsabela City, Basilan’s capital, from the township of Sumisip.

The Nur Misuari led MNLF faction from Basilan and Jolo island attacked Zamboanga City on Sept. 9,  in anticipation of the signing of the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Misuari and his followers were angry at the government for ignoring them in the peace deal with the MILF. They have been protesting and demanding the government to honor another peace accord entered into by the government and the MNLF in 1996.

Some 300 MNLF forces were either killed, captured or surrendered in the September 9 siege that resulted in the burning of some 1,000 houses in five villages in this city.

Some 3,000 people, mostly Muslims, were rendered homeless, and half of the number are still in evacuation centers in Zamboanga City. After staying in the evacuation centers for five months, 108 evacuees have died of varied diseases due tto dirty environment and exposure to heat and rain.