Beng recounts September ordeal in Senate hearing PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 07 February 2014 13:11

Mayor Beng Climaco yesterday told the Senate committee probing on the September siege in Zamboanga that the residents “paid a very dear and big price for what has happened”, as she narrated the events starting July leading to the MNLF attack and the current situation in evacuation centers and continuous threats in the city.

“Zamboanguenos have paid a very dear and big price for what has happened, the bullets of the MNLF did not choose religion but killed human beings with children included,” she said stressing “we are still experiencing the pain for the loss of lives—civilians and hostages killed, police and military killed in action and the internally displaced persons (IDPs) still at the evacuation centers—all these as a consequence of the siege.”

The Senate hearing, jointly conducted by the committees on national defense and security and peace and reconciliation began yesterday afternoon with Sen. Antonio Trillanes presiding. It was intended to trace how and why the man-made crisis happened in Zamboanga.

Aside from Mayor Climaco, Cong. Celso Lobregat of District I and BGen. Oscar Lacbao of the Armed Forces of the Philippines also made presentations during the hearing. Secretaries Mar Roxas of DILG, Teresita Deles of the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and Voltaire Gazmin of the DND also gave their statements.

Other senators present were Kiko Pimentel, TG Guingona, Sonny Angara, Franklin Drilon and Peter Cayetano. Top military and police officials also present were AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, former Western Mindanao Command Chief Lt. Gen. Rey Arco, Police Regional Director PCSupt. Juanito Vaño and Col. Chiquito Malayo. From Zamboanga, also present were District II Cong. Lilia Nuño and some members of the City Council.

Mayor Climaco began her presentation with the historical perspective starting from the 1976 Tripoli Agreement to the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the MNLF that led to the Special Zone of Peace and Development which was supposed to be governed by the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) which eventually led to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The two plebiscites in 1989 and 2001 where Zamboangueños voted overwhelmingly to be out of the ARMM including the Cabatangan siege in 2001, the MOA-AD-BJE that was declared unconstitutional and contrary to law by the Supreme Court in 2008 and the events that transpired prior to the siege that included the July 25, 2013 assembly and press conference of Nur Misuari at his residence in San Roque that caused alarm among the residents and the efforts to bring the matter to the attention of OPAPP and to seek guidance from the national government on the presence of Misuari in the city were also part of her historical background.

For his part, Cong. Lobregat delved on his efforts to bring to the attention of Congress about the MNLF’s disgust over the ongoing peace negotiation between the government and the MILF following the July 25, 2013 assembly and presscon initiated by Misuari in Zamboanga.

Similar issue has been brought to Congress in 2001 when he was also part of Congress, Lobregat stressed.

Key points discussed during the hearing were efforts of OPAPP to reach out to Misuari and the MNLF and lay down reasons why the siege happened, the need to formalize protocol on how to handle crises of similar nature, process of elevating case from local to national crisis committee and what are the parameters or guidelines.

There was also a thorough discussion on the pre-emptive calibrated response and how it saved lives. Recommendations were also presented such as how to beef up security and improve intelligence gathering.

Public hearing/senate inquiry was suspended shortly before 4pm to pave the way for an executive session after the Cabinet secretaries left. — Sheila Covarrubias with reports from Christian Olasiman