Zamboanga Mayor vows justice for siege victims

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ZAMBOANGA CITY–Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar on Monday said the local government will continue to fight for justice for the victims of the 2013 Zamboanga siege.

Salazar’s statement came after the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 158 recently ordered the release of 96 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) involved in the 21-day siege.

“I am still positively hoping that justice will be served to the victims of the Zamboanga Siege and the remaining 100 MNLF (members) accused shall be held accountable for the crimes committed,” Salazar said.

“Notwithstanding of the recent order, the city shall continue to be a one strong Zamboanga City, she added.

Close to 30 policemen and soldiers were killed during the 21-day siege, including more than 10 civilians caught in the crossfire.

The 2013 siege also displaced over 100,000 people as they evacuated to safety, some of whom remain in relocation sites until now.

The military reported that more than 100 MNLF members were killed in the series of fighting during the seige.

Salazar noted that the release of the 96 MNLF members was a result of the plea bargaining agreement entered into by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the accused, which resulted to the lowering of the penalty imposed on them.

The MNLF members were accused of rebellion and two counts of violation of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in connection with the Zamboanga siege.

The plea bargaining agreement reduced the charges of rebellion and IHL violations, which are punishable by life imprisonment, to a lesser crime of illegal assembly with much lesser penalty of prison term of at least four years.

“The City Government is saddened by the release of the accused MNLF members but will continue to fight for justice despite the recent order of the Regional Trial Court,” Salazar said.

The freed MNLF members arrived Monday morning here aboard a C-130 “Hercules” cargo plane en route to their respective provinces–Basilan, Sulu and Zamboanga Sibugay.

The siege started on September 9 when hundreds of MNLF members loyal to MNLF Founding-Chair Nur Misuari attempted to march towards City Hall to raise the flag of the self-proclaimed Bangsamoro Republic.

Misuari’s followers occupied at least four coastal villages in this city, but government forces eventually flushed the militants out. -Bong Garcia/PNA 

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