MANILA, Philippines — The armed forces has been busy. Before and during the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction of Commander Habier Malik attacked Zamboanga City, the military was also dealing with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in central Mindanao.
Malik protested the peace talks between government and its rival group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The BIFF is the MILF's breakaway group that also opposes the terms of the peace negotiation.
Armed Forces chief Gen Emmanuel Bautista said the military is "succeeding" in "addressing these spoilers to shield the peace process against their obstruction." He is now looking forward to the signing of the peace pact with the MILF.
"The negotiated political settlement with the MILF is about to come. That is the reason why spoilers are coming out — the BIFF and a small faction of the MNLF," Bautista told reporters Friday afternoon, October 4.
"We look forward to the eventual signing of the peace agreement with the MILF. Hopefully the other threat groups, we should be able to address as well," Bautista added.
[Video: After addressing 'spoliers,' AFP chief looks forward to peace pact with MILF
Bautista said their timeline to finish insurgency remains on track. The military is under pressure to address the new challenges of defending the country's maritime territory in the face of China's aggressiveness.
READ: PH should 'raise its game' in dispute vs China — US experts
The Zamboanga City crisis was declared "over" on its 20th day, September 28, although firefights continued between government forces and what it considered "stragglers" — MNLF remnants who were able to hide in the houses that survived the fires.
Responding to criticisms, Bautista said it was the "concern for hostages" that "delayed" the resolution of the crisis. "That was the primary reason why it took that long. We were very deliberate to make sure the hostages are not harmed," he said.
Based on government statistics, 195 hostages were rescued. Two were killed and 7 were wounded.
"By any standards, I think that is a good accomplishment on the part of the mltiary," Bautista said.
The Philippine National Police has taken the lead in the clearing operations. Cadavers of suspected MNLF members and unexploded ordnance have been recovered.
But Malik, who led the siege, remains unaccounted for. "We have not identified Malik among the dead bodies. Until we find a body, we're not saying that he is dead," said Bautista.
He added that MNLF fighters in Zamboanga led by founder Nur Misuari have been "decimated." President Benigno Aquino III himself earlier expressed confidence the MNLF no longer have the capacity to launch similar attacks.