MNLF frees Zamboanga City police chief; 23 rebels surrender

(Updated 3:35 a.m., 18 September 2013) Zamboanga City police chief Senior Superintendent Jose Chiquito Malayo, who was abducted by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters early Tuesday, was released later in the day, officials said. "It's confirmed, he (Malayo) was released at 5:45 p.m. in Mampang (village)," said Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, commander of the military's 7th Civil Relations Group. Cabunoc said Malayo's three escorts who were abducted with him were also released. Interior and Local Governments Secretary Mar Roxas said the police chief also managed to convince 23 MNLF fighters to surrender to authorities. "I am pleased to inform you that Zambo City director Senior Superintendent Chiquito Malayo has successfully convinced 23 MNLF fighters to come into the fold of the law. He and the 23 are en route back from Barangay Mampang being escorted by Regional Director chief Chief Superintendent Boy Vano," Roxas said in a text message. The MNLF agreed to free Malayo on the condition that the government would allow rebels to surrender safely, a report on "24 Oras" said, citing sources from the police. The "24 Oras" report showed Malayo inside a coaster together with the MNLF members. A statement from the Philippine National Police (PNP) said Malayo was negotiating for the release of several civilian hostages at a mangrove area in Barangay Mampang when the rebels held him at gunpoint. Abducted? However, Malayo adamantly denied that he had been abducted. Rather, he had walked into the MNLF lines in order to ask them to release the hostages and for them to stop fighting "Kasi hindi namani nila alam na ito ang patutunguhan," said Malayo in interview on GMA 7's "Saksi". "Gusto na nilang bumalik ng Basilan. Wala lang masakyan. "We talked kung papaano ma-settle yan." Reports had said that some of the MNLF fighters had no idea they were going to engage with military forces. They were recruited for a peace rally and to raise their flag at the Zamboanga City Hall. Others said they were promised P10,000, while some MNLF gunmen claimed to have been kept in the dark until landing in the city and were handed rifles. 70% reclaimed Malayo's abduction marked the ninth day of the armed conflict in Zamboanga City. The standoff started Monday last week when MNLF rebels loyal to their founding chairman Nur Misuari seized several villages and held dozens of residents hostage. On Tuesday, after eight days of sporadic clashes that left over 50 people dead, the military said 70 percent of the areas occupied by the rebels has been reclaimed. "In the areas where they (rebels) were both holding out in the past, 70 percent of that is now under government control," Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said at a press briefing. Sought for clarification, Tutaan told GMA News Online that he was referring to the "previously occupied positions" spread out in five barangays – Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara, Rio Hondo, Talon-Talon, and Mariki. By Monday, September 16, at least 51 MNLF rebels have been killed, although there were unverified reports that 20 more fighters have died from clashes with government forces, Tutaan said. At least 64 have either surrendered or have been captured as of Tuesday morning, he added. On the other hand, the military has rescued 123 hostages Tuesday morning, public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said. On the government side, six soldiers and three policemen were killed while 98 were hurt. The clashes also left seven civilians dead and 36 others wounded. Thousands of evacuees have fled their homes and sought shelter at the city stadium because of the conflict. — KBK/YA/DVM, GMA News