MORO NATIONAL LIBERATION Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari met again with President Rodrigo Duterte for the nth time to discuss the peace talks and the creation of a coordinating committee between the former rebel group and the national government.
Misuari, along with his group, was in Malacañang Palace recently on the invitation of Duterte, his long-time friend and political ally, and is expected to meet again with the President in Davao City soon.
Duterte previously told the former Libyan firebrand that he ordered Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez to immediately form a coordinating committee between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MNLF, and to convene and set the agenda for discussions.
Misuari has asked Duterte to include the influential Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the peace talks. The OIC had played a vital role in the peace process between the Philippine government and MNLF where Misuari is the chairman.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the coordinating committee will serve as a venue to seek for the cooperation of the MNLF to achieve immediate peace in Sulu province by, among others, helping in combatting the Abu Sayyaf militants and to convincing MNLF relatives to return to the folds of the law. “The GPH-MNLF Coordinating Committee can expect the full support of the Office of the President, as we move towards our common goal of resolving the conflict that have caused deaths, suffering, and dislocation among the Muslims and Christians alike,” Panelo said.
“In resolving the Muslim rebellion in Mindanao, every undertaking that may lead to a lasting peace and prosperity to that region must be tried and tested until its fruition. We can do no less as a people. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will walk the extra mile to bring harmony to the country and the nation,” he added.
Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the peace accord, there was a widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted. Under the peace accord, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in Mindanao, and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.
In 2001, Misuari’s loyal forces and former rebels, who joined the military and police following the signing of the peace deal, attacked a key army base in Sulu’s Jolo town and civilian targets in Zamboanga in an effort to stop the government from calling an election in the Muslim autonomous region where Misuari wanted to be a perpetual governor.
He then escaped by boat to Malaysia where he had been arrested and deported to the Philippines and was eventually pardoned and released by then President Gloria Arroyo in exchange for MNLF support to her election bid, as well as her allies in the Senate and Congress in 2004. And in September 2013, MNLF members attacked Zamboanga City for the second time, sparking fierce clashes that lasted for weeks, and left hundreds of people dead and wounded, and displaced over 300,000 civilians. Many of the raiders were killed, but the others managed to escape following the failed rebellion.
Misuari, who is accused of rebellion by authorities for the deadly attacks, is being protected from arrest by Duterte, who interceded to the police and military on behalf of the former rebel chieftain so he would be free to move around without any fear of being arrested.
Duterte, who admitted being a good friend of Misuari, also admitted that he intervened to allow Misuari to travel abroad to attend two conferences of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Abu Dhabi and Morocco despite criminal charges against the MNLF leader.
Misuari is also facing graft charges at the Sandigan Bayan over the alleged anomalous purchase of education materials when he was governor of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He denied all criminal and graft accusations against him.
Despite all these charges against Misuari, the OIC continues to support him. And in 2017, the OIC Secretary General, Dr. Youssef Al Othaimeen, in support of the peace process even convened the 4th Session of the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire on the margins of the 44th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers.
The OIC said it continues to deal with the MNLF through the Jeddah formula. The meeting discussed the prospects of the peace process under the Duterte administration and is part of the efforts of the OIC to close ranks between the MNLF and MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front which also signed a peace accord with Manila in 2014) and to help in the process of merging the two peace tracks and to consolidate realization of the inalienable rights of the Muslim minority in southern Philippines for a peaceful, just and durable settlement of their problem.
The OIC Council of Foreign Ministers also reaffirmed the importance of unity within the MNLF and the Jeddah formula. (Zamboanga Post. With additional reporting from the Mindanao Examiner.)
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