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PRESIDENT RODRIGO Duterte said he intends to talk again with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari to discuss peace talks in an effort to unify him with the rival group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper Apr. 9-15, 2018

“I would be in conference with everybody and after that I will go back to maybe Jolo (Sulu province) to talk to Misuari again if we can come up with an arrangement to arrive at a lasting peace,” he said.

Duterte has recently met with MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim as well as with Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Chairman Ghazali Jaafar and MILF peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal in Davao City and discussed the BBL which is still pending in Congress. The MILF is a breakaway faction of the MNLF and it is unlikelyMisuari will unite with Ebrahim’s group.

Race against time

“I am racing against time. The MILF is in a hurry and has placed on us the burden of a timeline and I have agreed to that period. I gave my solemn promise and I assure you I am working hard to meet the deadline,” Duterte said.

Duterte has been campaigning for BBL even before winning the presidency in 2016, but he is also strongly advocating federalism and in many of his public appearances and speeches the President said if BBL fails, federalism is the next best thing for the country.

He vowed to step down – even before his term ends on 2022 – as soon as the new federal government is fully functional. “Do not be afraid of a dictatorship because I will not be the one,” he said.

The President said he will talk with House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel to get Congress leaders to pass BBL this year. “I will tell him Senator Pimentel (to) remember that we have a commitment to the Moro people. But at the same time, we’ll have an arrangement where everybody will be happy,” Duterte said.

“I don’t think that with the MNLF, MILF and government or in joint venture with government can go wrong. We will see to it that justice is applied every day, that fairness is observed,” he said.

No way!

While he is pushing for BBL, Duterte reiterated his opposition to the creation of regional armed forces or police which the MILF is demanding. “I will not agree to that. If we are all Filipinos (then) why (do) you have to create an army? My army is your army. My police are your police,” Duterte said, adding, members of the MILF and MNLF can be integrated into the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The MILF has rejected proposals for them to surrender their weapons not until BBL is passed and a new Muslim homeland is in place. Its leaders, according to political analysts, wanted to rule over the new or expanded Muslim region in Mindanao, but many Christian politicians who have landholdings and businesses in the troubled region are opposing the BBL saying many of its provisions are unconstitutional.

Troubled past

The MNLF, on the other hand, is opposed to the government peace talks with the MILF because Manila has not fully complied with the peace deal it signed withMisuari in 1996 that resulted in two deadly attacks in Zamboanga City and Sulu since 2001.

The Aquino administration already signed an interim peace deal with the MILF in 2014. And Misuari inked a peace accord 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 agreement, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south 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 MNLF rebels who joined the Philippine Army following the peace deal attacked a key military base in Sulu’s Jolo town and civilian targets in Zamboanga City in an effort to stop the government from calling an election in the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao where Misuari was then the governor.

Misuari 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.

But Misuari was also ousted by his Foreign Affairs chief Parouk Hussin, who along with Muslimen Sema, a senior leader; and other senior leaders, made up the so-called Council of 15.

Sema’s group previously appointed Misuari as chairman emeritus, but he rejected the position. Sema had criticized Misuari for dragging the MNLF into disarray. The Council of 15 also accused Misuari of being incompetent as governor of the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.

Misuari’s fall had severely affected the MNLF which is now heavily divided and rift among its leaders is becoming more apparent. Misuari also ran thrice for governor in Sulu province even while under detention, but lost miserably. And despite the previous attack, Misuari’s followers again attacked Zamboanga City in 2013.

Despite the failed rebellions, Misuari remains untouchable and free due to his huge number of armed followers in Mindanao and political dealings with Arroyo and Duterte. (Mindanao Examiner. With a report from Jelly Musico.)

 

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