PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines -The military’s Western Command (WESCOM) on Monday warned factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Palawan to stop their recruitment activity as it was sowing fear among the people.
Recruitment of members is prohibited under the peace process, added the Armed Forces of the Philippines. WESCOM spokesperson Captain Cherryl Tindog told the Philippine News Agency that “recruitment activities of any MNLF faction are provocative and inimical to the commitment to attain enduring peace.”
Since the first quarter of the year, WESCOM has been continuously receiving reports about MNLF recruitment activities “from the ground,” and these are now causing public anxiety, according to her.
“We have received intelligence that some MNLF front runners are recruiting in southern Palawan. To convince new recruits, they are exploiting President Rodrigo Duterte’s bid for a shift to federalism, and they are also pledging to give them money, identification cards, and firearms,” she said.
The amount of compensation promised is said to range between P20,000 and P30,000.
“They are supposed to get this after paying a required registration fee,” she said.
The sightings were reported in Aborlan, Quezon, Rizal, and Bataraza in southern Palawan; at least two barangays in the fringes of Puerto Princesa going south; and in the northern towns of Taytay and El Nido.
“They even had their selfies taken with local officials in one event in a southern Palawan municipality to show that their recruitment is legal. They wore uniforms bearing the name MNLF,” Tindog stated.
She said they attempted to put up a MNLF camp in Bataraza town, but Mayor Abraham Ibba ordered the members not to persist because it was illegal under the comprehensive peace process and without his authority.
“Aside from the fact that the recruitment [activities] all have the trimmings of being a scam, a rip-off — to fraud people into paying hard-earned money, what really raises our concern is the declaration of issuance of firearms, which is an outright violation of the peace process,” she said.
Earlier, lawyer Teodoro Jose Matta, legal adviser of the Palawan government and vice-chair of the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC), also confirmed to PNA reports about the recruitment sightings.
“Yes, we are monitoring it. These acts are not allowed under the peace agreement. We have been monitoring this with WESCOM,” said Matta.
In Palawan, there are two factions of the Moro separatist group: the MNLF under Prof. Nur Misuari, and the MNLF Mainstream (Central Committee) that takes command from Yusop Jikiri, the former governor of Sulu province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
MNLF Mainstream high-ranking leader Estino Jairie Ayyobie, whose group alliance is with Jikiri, said they have heard about the concern and stressed their group was not involved.
“We have heard about it, but we are not the one recruiting new members. It is not allowed for us to recruit under the peace process. What is allowed is only to reactivate our old MNLF members,” Ayyobie said.
Ayyobie admitted this was treacherous, particularly because their faction was most often the one being accused.
The MNLF bloc under Jikiri’s leadership is the biggest faction that is not hostile to President Duterte’s leadership and not antagonistic to the peace treaty, said Ayyobie.
Promise of salary a hoax
On compensation promises, there is no way the bona fide MNLF will pay salary, said the senior Moro leader.
“I’ve been a member of the MNLF for more than 40 years, and not once have I been paid my salary,” he said.
Ayyobie suggested that the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) resolve the problem.
A highly-placed source in OPAPP said in a text message: “The MNLF are not allowed to recruit. We have already reported this issue to the MNLF Implementing Panel for them to put a stop to it not only in Palawan.” This was in response to the text message from PNA inquiring if MNLF factions were allowed to recruit.
The source said OPAPP would meet with all MNLF factions in the province to talk on the PAMANA or PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn, the national government’s “convergence program that extends development interventions to isolated, hard-to-reach and conflict-affected communities, ensuring that they are not left behind.”
“Then, perhaps we can talk about other issues,” said the OPAPP source, who requested anonymity for now.
Monitoring the movements of the MNLF recruiters is part of WESCOM’s efforts to continuously keep “Palawan safe” from any threat, Tindog said.
“We continue to encourage the public to report to WESCOM any suspicious individual or group movements to ensure that they are safe, as well as their communities. Keeping Palawan safe involves more importantly the support of its people,” she said.
Reports can be made by calling or texting the WESCOM Emergency Hotline 09178960014, and by accessing the Volunteers for a Safe Palawan Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/volunteersforasafepalawan/
Tindog gave assurances that WESCOM would keep anonymous the identities of those with useful information if they fear reprisal.