Zambo’s First Gentleman finally speaks out - defends self, mayor vs black propaganda
ZAMBOANGA CITY – First gentleman Trifonio Salazar has branded as political propaganda for media mileage the allegations by a mayoralty candidate Mario Yanga who strongly criticised the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) for its alleged failure to detect the entry of Moro rebels in Zamboanga City in 2013.
Yanga also blamed Salazar’s wife, Mayor Beng Climaco, for allegedly failing to properly response to the first few hours of the raids.
“Yanga doesn’t know what he was talking about and all these issues are mere propaganda aimed at putting him in the news since he was always lagging behind political surveys. The poor responses of the constituents on Yanga’s candidacy show the reality on the ground,” Salazar told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
Salazar, who previously headed the NICA, said among the functions of the agency is to collate and make assessment the information gathered by intelligence agencies for the President. He said actionable intelligence are passed on to operating units - the police and military and other law enforcement agencies.
He said it is up to the police chiefs and military commanders or heads of law enforcement agencies on how to deal with the intelligence reports they disseminate.
Salazar said Moro National Liberation Front rebels from Sulu and Basilan provinces, all under the Muslim autonomous region, landed in several villages, including Taluksangay and Arena Blanco, and that a navy patrol boat – aware of intelligence report on the plans of the MNLF to enter Zamboanga - clashed with a group of rebels onboard several motorboats near Rio Hondo.
Yanga, who was then deputy chief of the regional police force, said the rebel siege would not have prolonged if the mayor showed strong leadership in dealing with the situation.
But it was unknown why the regional police force and the army failed to detect the entry of rebels despite a huge number of security personnel in Zamboanga.
Online news website Rappler also quoted Councilor Rogelio Velasco Jr, who said he could not understand how the siege happened to Zamboanga City. “The very ironic question is: How come these things happen in Zamboanga? We have the Western Mindanao Command. We have the regional police command. We have the naval and the air base. These are the questions the people of Zamboanga are asking our authorities.”
Yanga was assigned in Zamboanga’s east coast while security forces were battling rebels in the villages near downtown area, according to Salazar, who was a former decorated army commander.
Salazar said he was guarding the village of Santa Catalina near City Hall together with retired army general Nehemias Pajarito together with village chieftain Jimmy Villaflores, who is now running for a council seat.
He said the mayor was on top of the situation from the start of the siege. “Journalists were there covering the mayor day and night. The mayor showed strong will in dealing with the rebels that’s why we defeated them, captured the raiders and filed criminal charges against them, including Nur Misuari, the leader of the MNLF, who is now wanted by authorities,” Salazar said.
In an interview with Rappler, Climaco said “negotiations were exhausted to the best we can. At the end of the day, what they sought was the return and full implementation of the final peace accord (with the government). It is not within my level as city mayor.”
The report said there was an opportunity to peacefully end the crisis during the early stages of the standoff, but a rebel leader Habier Malik, offered to release all hostages on condition they would be given a safe conduct pass so they could return to the negotiating table.
It further said that Malik wanted to repeat what happened in 2001 years ago when the MNLF pulled the same stunt in Zamboanga City where the rebels were given a safe pass and the public was forced to literally watch the armed raiders walked away — on live TV — in exchange for the release of dozens of hostages.
Salazar said: “What happened in Cabatangan emboldened the MNLF to stage the 2013 because the MNLF considered Zamboanga City a weak target because they were able to get away from any liability on the 2001 carnage. It was proven wrong by Mayor Beng.”
It can be recalled that in November 2001, hundreds of rebels occupied Cabatangan, the former Muslim regional complex, and held hostage dozens of civilians, including children, in an effort to stop the elections in the region.
More than 100 people were killed in the fighting and in the end, Mayor Maria Clara Lobregat, mother of incumbent congressman Celso Lobregat, who was the chief executive then, allowed the rebels to leave Zamboanga in exchange for the release of the hostages.
The next year, Zamboanga city was rocked with a series of Abu Sayyaf bombings October 2, 17 and 21, 2002 that killed 11 people, including an U.S. soldier, and over 180 others wounded.
Salazar said the police chief then was Yanga. “The 2002 series of bombings is a sign of incompetence on Yanga’s part. He should have resigned his position after it happened,” he said.
Yanga, an ally of Lobregat, was the longest serving police chief in Zamboanga and occupied the position on and off for 5 years since 1999.