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The 9/9 MNLF siege of Zamboanga City; Lessons learned; Faults unmasked



“God guideth him who seeketh His good pleasure unto path of peace”.
-    Holy Qur’an 5:16

“War is not an objective of Islam nor is it the normal course of Muslims. It is only the last resort and is used under the most extraordinary circumstances when all other measures fail. This is the actual status of war in Islam. Islam is the religion of peace; its meaning is peace; one of God’s name is peace; the daily greetings of Muslims and angels  are peace; Paradise s the house of peace, the adjective “Muslim” means  peaceful.”
-    Hammudah Abdalati, ISLAM IN FOCUS

The September 9, 2013 attack of Zamboanga City by the MNLF was indeed a big contradiction of what the great Islamic scholar, Dr. Hammudah Abdalati wrote in his book ISLAM IN FOCUS, written before he passed away in 1967. Dr. Abdalati was well-known to the Muslim communities of North America as well as other intercultural groups and audiences.

The attack on the helpless and hapless citizens of the five Muslim enclaves was indeed an aberration of Islam. It was so un-Islamic, despite calls by different texters to the Muslim communities of Zamboanga to help the “attackers” were unheeded because the Muslims of Zamboanga knew who were wrong, and who wronged them. The call for jihad fell flat on the ears of the good Muslims of Zamboanga city.   

The siege devastated heavily the five Muslim communities due to the attack on the city by the MNLF (faction of Misuari). Are these groups interpreting the meaning of Islam as a religion of peace? Where? How? Many Muslims of the city are asking. What did the MNLF faction gain from this attack? Many. They gained the scorn , the contempt and the hatred of the entire population of the city (Muslims and Christians). Who were the most affected, displaced, became so poor and pitiful? The Muslims and Badjaos.  Is  chairman Misuari happy now that he achieved his sublime ambition, to punish Zamboanga city for refusing to honor him? Maybe.

But in that moment of extreme misery and disaster, who helped the Muslims in their hour of need? The Christians. And the Holy Qur’an, was so right when this was revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) one thousand years ago the Noble Qur’an said:

“… and you will find the nearest among men in love to the believers (to be) those who say;  “We are Christians” because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not arrogant. When they listen to that which has been revealed unto the MESSENGER, you see their eyes overflow with tears because of their recognition of the truth.”
-    Holy Qur’an,5: 82-83

I am struck by the phrase “they are not arrogant”, “they” refers to the Christians. The implication (informing the Holy Prophet) is that in some future time (our time) a lot of Muslims are so infected with “arrogance” that you could hardly tell the Pharaohs of Egypt, Hitler, Mussolini, and other tyrants to these present day Muslims. They have a “new religion”, a religion of arrogance.

The attack on the city was driven by greed and arrogance, hence, God in His Infinite Wisdom, did not allow the attackers to succeed despite their determination to win. Greed and arrogance were the objectives, it was not because of “agama”, “hulah”, or any principle on planet earth.

Lessons were learned by both sides of the fence (MNLF & Gov’t.), led us to refer to that REFLECTION:

A.    MNLF:
1. That the city of Zamboanga was vulnerable despite the presence of the “impregnable” WesMinCom.

2. A small spark of firefight, the city is terrorized.

3. That intelligence was poor (this is debatable, because as the days unfolded, intelligence did not work for some very good reasons, our analysts told us)

4. That using Muslim communities as sanctuaries can be costly in terms of lives and properties. This was one of the greatest mistakes the MNLF did.

5. “Fight an urban war” needs the populace cooperation, hence it failed despite the dictation of Misuari that the “war” would only take 8 hour and the MNLF flag raised at City Hall, and presto! The UN and the OIC would come for the declaration of independence, so said the information relayed by our analyst

6. Hostage-taking and using civilians as human shield were indeed, un-Islamic. Thus God did not bless (the MNLF fighters efforts).

7. That the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police, are forces to be reckoned with.


1. Admitted, intelligence was not at its best! But intelligence people insist they did their best. The people are asking: why the attack of the MNLF took place last Sept. 9, 2013? No answers up to this time.

2. Tell-tale signs were ignored. These were signs the Interreligious Solidarity for Peace noted by were not seriously considered. Lessons indeed to learn, next time.

3. Rumors dismissed as rumors. Text messages sent flying frequently, but government even sent advisory not to pass these rumors. The advise was wrong. Rumors can be sources of information, instead of dismissal, process the rumor and validate it .

4. Crisis Management Committee, some analysts and specialists have noted, were in the hands of inexperienced handlers.


Asking the help of our analyst(s), they pose these questions to us in order that in some future crisis, these “blunders” may be averted, or not repeated and we will be ready for it. God bless us!


1. Where did we fail? Why information relayed to some people, that prior to this attack, some knew this would happen. Known to some, as early as July 2013. Again, why?

2. How should we handle in another crisis situation that the city will face similar to the

September 9, 2013 siege?

3. What are our options in a serious situation that the city have, and make use of, in a time of conflict and similar crisis?


1. How do we build bridges of unity and solidarity amidst the ill-feelings generated by the September 9, 2013 MNLF attack?

2. Are material rehabilitation enough to rebuild the people’s lives? Or, we should also look at the psychological and spiritual dimension? The healing process must also take place, hand in hand with the material rehabilitation. Who will undertake the healing part of rehabilitation?

3. Will the city government and other partners look at the proposition of a SUMMIT OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS, and consider this as one of the processes for healing, if in the answer is in the affirmative, when?

My stand, the sooner, the better for all. It is better to be ready than sorry. The war was a catastrophic human experience, thereby we should learn from it.

For the healing process, consider this idea as advanced by experts, specialists and other intellectuals:

1. An interfaith desk and focal person in some selected government agencies in the city. Revisit Executive Order no. 626 S. 2007 issued by then President Macapagal-Arroyo. There is sense in this E.O. of the President.

Forum on ISLAM’S contribution to the world on suggested topics such as:

- Sciences in Islam

- Great men of Islam: Arts, History, Men of Letters

- Women in Islam

- Peace in Islam

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