(An excerpt from my still-to-be published book I WALKED WITH PRESIDENTS)
USTADZ HABIER MALIK, an Islamic religious leader who maintained an armed force in the forests of Sulu , was one of the loyalists of MNLF Chairman NUR “Maas” MISUARI.
In 2007, as part of government’s continuing engagement in support of the peace agreement signed in 1996 during the presidency of President Fidel V. Ramos, two high-ranking government officials namely Marine Brig. General Ben Dolorfino and my OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) Undersecretary Ramon Santos ( himself a former AFP brigadier General) went to Ustadz Malik’s camp to deliver TV sets, food items and other “goodies” as part of government’s goodwill mission to “engage” the still-armed Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) . Although a peace agreement was signed with them eleven (11) years earlier in 1976,they remained armed as there was no “disarmament” provision in that peace pact.
It was to everyone’s surprise when the two (2) officials during that camp visit were not allowed to leave the MNLF camp for reasons only known to Habier Malik. I speculated that perhaps the two (2) officers might have brought up the issue of “disarmament” while there but I was not so sure. They were not allowed to leave and held hostage for several days.
After I was informed of the incident, I immediately flew to Jolo and trekked up to Malik’s “fortress” deep into the Sulu jungles to personally work for their release. I had previously visited myself Malik in his Sulu camp as part of my peace work. I was a bit confident that I had earned his friendship and goodwill.
But I took special care and effort that I too would not be held hostage as I did not know exactly why they were being held. As planned, I did not enter the camp but started talking with Ustadz Malik from the outside. My military escorts also warned me to be extra careful as Malik was known for his volatile or unpredictable ways. I did not enter the camp but stayed at the entrance of the gate area. When Malik recognized me upon my arrival and after my appeal to him ( thru a “Tausug” speaking interpreter) he eventually sent his men to the quarters where Gen. Dolorfino and Usec. Santos were staying for several days . Finally, they were allowed to leave.
Six ( 6) years later, in September 2013, during the presidency of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, the same Ustadz Habier Malik and his armed men attacked and devastated Zamboanga City in what became known as the “Zamboanga siege”.
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