From the Daily Tribune (Oct 30): Al Jazeera video shows military shoot hostages
ZAMBO SURVIVORS VALIDATE FOOTAGE NOT FABRICATED
An amateur footage of cable news outfit Al Jazeera showing Philippine state forces indiscriminately firing at supposed hostages of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces who held an almost three-week siege of Zamboanga City is catching fire despite efforts of Malacañang to shrug off the video as an MNLF propaganda.
Al Jazeera even said the footage raised fresh questions on the conduct of military operations in the standoff with the MNLF.
The video initially showed a crowd waving white flags who were described as hostages of the MNLF before shots were heard in the background that resulted in the individuals scampering for safety while some dove for cover.
The video then showed a commotion supposedly individuals looking for any safe ground while continuous firing was heard in the background. Eventually the video showed several of the supposed hostages prone on the ground, with some appearing to have been shot.
President Aquino when asked by an Al Jazeera reporter about the footage during a recent Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) event questioned the authenticity of the video, even hinting that it was an MNLF propaganda material.
The military, however, admitted that the video was authentic but said the hostages may have been caught in a crossfire as the army fought the rebels.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala, sought by Al Jazeera, said civilian safety was the top priority during the Zamboanga City operations.
“During this video we never fired at them; we were firing at sniper positions of the enemy. They [MNLF rebels] were the ones firing at the hostages,” he claimed.
“We were directed by the president to rescue the hostages and neutralise the threat. We were able to rescue 195 hostages. Unfortunately 12 were killed, eight directly by rebel fire and the other four, we think, were killed on a bus when a bomb went off,” he added.
Aquino said that the “claims” will be properly investigated and if there are cases that have to be filed, they will be filed.
“But at the same time, perhaps I should caution you, that it smacks of a bit of propaganda,” Aquino said.
Al Jazeera, however, said the videos have been “coming out online” which were validated by human rights advocates in the city and by survivors of the conflict as well.
Aquino replied: “I haven’t seen the videos, number one. Number two, the videos – from the Secretary of Justice’s point of view – have not been verified.”
“I’m again at a disadvantage. I have not seen these videos and I am being asked to comment on that which I have not seen. So it will be speculation on top of speculation, which I think is not responsible,” Aquino said.
Jamela Alindogan, an Al Jazeera reporter, however, related in a story that when he visited one of the alleged hostages in the video Juan Santander Morte, she was told that the video was not fabricated.
Morte himself was hit by a shrapnel on the head and back but he said he doesn’t blame anyone, not even the Philippine military because “everybody is a collateral damage of war.”
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, meanwhile, has designated a team of prosecutors to handle the cases against Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman and erstwhile Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Nurulaji “Nur” Misuari and 64 others in connection with the siege of Zamboanga City from Sept. 8 to 29, 2013.
In Department Order 799 signed by De Lima, the team of prosecutors will be composed of Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony D. Fadullon, as team leader; and Regional Prosecutor Peter L. Medalle, Assistant State Prosecutors Aristotle M. Reyes and Niven R. Canlapan, and Prosecuting Attorney Cesar Angelo A. Chavez III, as members.
The Zamboanga City Regional Trial Court has already issued warrants of arrest against Misuari and MNLF commander Habier Malic, and 63 other MNLF leaders and members for the cases of rebellion and violation of the international humanitarian law, and other crimes against humanity, in connection with the standoff in Zamboanga City.
The cases were transferred to the the Taguig City RTC as ordered by the Supreme Court last October 17.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin yesterday expressed readiness to vacate his post anytime if so ordered by President Aquino amid reports that he is on his way out of the Cabinet as he pointed to groups that are interested in his post behind the spread of the information.
At a press briefing, Gazmin said he was surprised over news reports about his supposed departure from the Aquino administration.
“I am ready to go if the President loses trust on me, I serve at the pleasure of the President. So, I will be replaced, thank you, if not thank you also,” said Gazmin, who was the defense secretary since Aquino assumed the presidency in June 2010.
Reports published yesterday stated that Gazmin would be replaced by incumbent Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.
The same reports said that Gazmin’s supposed departure from the Cabinet was in connection with his recent statements regarding the discovery of concrete blocks on Panatag Shoal in Zambales. Gazmin expressed belief that the blocks could have been placed there by the Chinese, which the President reportedly is not convinced.
Gazmin said that the President did not discuss anything about his (Gazmin) position during their overnight stay in the earthquake-stricken Loon, Bohol.
“I was surprised, I read in the papers today...there are rumors that I will be replaced by somebody. We never talked about this in Bohol. It was never came out,” said Gazmin.
The defense also said he has not yet talked to the President after reading the news reports yesterday.
Asked who could be behind the rumors, Gazmin replied “maybe some people are interested in the post. I am not sure.”
The defense chief theorized that some interest groups might want to muddle big issues now pressing the government. Gazmin, however, did not identify the groups or specifically mentioned the cases being diverted.
He also admitted the possibility that there are attempts to break his relationship with the President. Gazmin is known to be close to the Aquinos having served as Presidential Security Group (PSG) commander to the late President Cory Aquino, mother of the incumbent commander in chief.
As PSG commander, Gazmin protected the late President from a number of bloody coup d’etats in the late 1980s.
“Maybe they would want to break the relationship, most probably. I am identified with the military, at the same time I am quite identified with the Aquinos. If you want to break the relationship between the Aquinos and myself or myself and the Armed Forces, you have to sullied me,” said Gazmin.
Gazmin stressed that it is okay for him to vacate his post, if so ordered by the President. “It’s time to go on vacation, it’s been a long dream for me.”