Back to state of fear as Pnoy, Roxas deny MNLF surrender : Sta. Barbara MNLF dugout overrun, but fighting resumes in Sta. Catalina PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 15 September 2013 14:00

Tension eased yesterday morning amid unconfirmed report that 80 MNLF rebels dug in Sta. Barbara surrendered and Fr. Michael Ufana was released, but residents returned to their previous state of fear and anguish as officials led by President Aquino denied there was any surrender.

Government troops overran the Sta. Barbara Elementary School where the MNLF fighters had holed up, but fresh firefight erupted in Sta. Catalina where soldiers pursued fleeing rebels, while the President was holding a press conference ay the military’s Wesmincom headquarters in Upper Calarian.

Rappler.com broke out with a report in the internet that between 70 to 80 armed followers of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari surrendered around 8 p.m. in Sta Barbara, Zamboanga on Thursday.

Rappler quoted  police intelligence sources and residents in Barangay Sta Barbara that the MNLF rebels  surrendered to a team of the Philippine National Police, the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission and the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime.

“A certain member of MNLF under commander Ismael with white flag reached our position and negotiated their surrender. About 80 of them are armed and one is wounded,” Rappler quoted its sources.

It said that the MNLF member who served as the coordinator identified himself as Paulo Casa. approached around 6:30 pm the government troops positioned across the street from the mosque they were occupying in Sta Barbara.

Rappler said Casa negotiated for a ceasefire.

The leader of the MNLF surrenderers is Commander George Ismael, father in-law of Tahira Ismael, former mayor of Lantawan, Basilan, Rappler quoted the same sources.

DILG Secretary Mar Roxas confirmed to Rappler that “credible feelers” surfaced Thursday night to talk about negotiations, but this did not succeed until yesterday.

President Aquino himself denied there was surrender of MNLF rebels in the Wesmincom news conference at past 12 noon yesterday.

“Mali ang report. Wala pang sumuko. May naaresto, initially may mga naitaboy na din,” the president said.

Aquino arrived Zamboanga City to personally monitor and assess the ongoing conflict.

He brought supplies to the evacuees caught in the conflict and talked with soldiers there.

Soldiers recovered at the Sta. Barbara school six bodies of slain MNLF rebels with bullet wounds, several documents, medical kit, personal valuables, ammunition and MNLF flags.

All school edifices incurred suffered damages from mortar shelling during the four-day gunbattle.

Military and police officials said other MNLF rebels withdrew towards Sta. Catalina another fire broke out yesterday afternoon aside from the bigger conflagration that razed dozens of houses Thursday.

Meanwhile, amid the conflagration Thursday afternoon, police arrested four MNLF rebels, one of them was a female, while they were trying to escape passing Veterans Avenue from Sta. Catalina. Recovered from their possession were several documents of the Misuari MNLF faction.

On the other hand, another MNLF rebel identified as Benhar Hamis was arrested in Sta. Barbara while he was looking for water.

One of the early government casualty in the Sta. Barbara clash was identified as Insp. Jay Oy-Oyan. He  was killed by a sniper fire last Wednesday.

In Colonia, Lamitan combined MNLF, Abu Sayyaf Group and BIFF forces clashed with government troops Thursday morning killing Roger Macaso and wounding Ernesto Landagura, both members of the Civilian Volunteers Organizations. Another clash broke out yesterday in the same barangay which is near Tipo-Tipo where the MNLF holds a camp.

Thursday’s firefight lasted for two hours after which the rebels withdrew. As a result some 200 families have evacuated to Lamitan town center, according to a source. — Dan Toribio Jr.