MNLF presence is Bukidnon’s top peace and order issue

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/04 July) — When the Bukidnon provincial peace and order council meets this week for the first time under the new administration, the number 1 item in the agenda is the presence of forces claiming to belong to the Moro National Liberation Front, Governor Alex Calingasan said.

Calingasan told MindaNews that he PPOC will gather on July 7 to discuss what for him is not only a “growing security threat” in the province but also its “biggest peace and order concern.”

File photo of Moro National Liberation Front members who gathered in Davao City on March last year. Mindanews File Photo by Keith Bacongco An official of a group who claimed to be a Bukidnon committee of the MNLF went on air last week over radio station DXDB saying they merited the confidence of MNLF chair Nur Misuari to do peace and development initiatives in Bukidnon.

The official, who claimed to head three of the committee’s units in Bukidnon, are taking initiatives in “compliance with the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front”.

But what alarmed officials here is that the group went around communities in the towns of Pangantucan, Kalilangan, and Valencia City recruiting members and promising at least P15,000 monthly compensation for inclusion to the group’s military force.

The official denied they were recruiting. He said  they were only enlisting replacements for those who were integrated into the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

News of the group’s activities prompted the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Bukidnon earlier in June to pass a resolution urging the national government through the Department of Interior and Local Government to apprise them of the situation and to block the group from proceeding with their plans.

Earlier, in March this year, Malaybalay  chief of police Erwin Meneses confirmed the MNLF in the area.  He said a group even paid him a courtesy call. .

In December 2008, provincial board member Oliver Owen Garcia, who chaired the committee on peace and order, complained of Misuari’s frequent visits in Bukidnon.

Then, Misuari spoke in an MNLF gathering in a village identified in a copy of the program as “Camp Datu Matoos Provincial Headquarters” in Sitio Kibalaog, Upper Lilingayon in the western side of Valencia City.

After Misuari’s “special message,” he was supposed to officiate the “baptismal of all MNLF forces willing to convert to Islam”. But the ceremony did not push through, Garcia said quoting an unnamed source, since Misuari arrived late.

Garcia said his presence and the “encampment” of sorts triggered a meeting of Lilingayon’s peace and order council on Dec. 2. Garcia joined police and military officials in the meeting.

Garcia told MindaNews then that Misuari arrived with at least 18 armed escorts allegedly military personnel from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He said the MNLF leader arrived in a seven-vehicle convoy and reportedly proceeded to the house of a barangay councilwoman (kagawad) in Lilingayon identified as Kagawad Julie Zulita.

Garcia said he was told that the MNLF recruited some residents promising to pay them at least P12,000 to P15,000 in monthly salaries.

The program showed prominent personalities in the province who were listed to speak in the event but Garcia noted that they were not invited in the first place.

An MNLF official identified as Major Nurwin Zunsunga, who was referred to as the “MNLF reorganizing officer,” and another official joined the peace and order council meeting.

Garcia quoted him as saying they were former MNLF integrees to the Armed Forces of the Philippines who are tasked to recruit for the MNLF.

Earlier in 2008, Misuari was also reported to have visited towns in southern Bukidnon.

In April 2008, Misuari, still in detention, was reportedly ousted again as MNLF chair and replaced by his former secretary-general, Muslimin Sema, the mayor of Cotabato City.

In April 2001, Misuari was also ousted by what would later be known as the “Executive Council of 15” composed of, among others, Sema and Parouk Hussin, Misuari’s successor-governor in the ARMM.

The OIC since 2001 had urged the MNLF factions to settle internally their leadership problem.

Several attempts had been done to get the MLNF factions to unify but these also did not succeed, until the leaders were called to Tripoli in Libya by Qaddafy’s son who had also been urging the unification of the MNLF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

A declaration for the creation of a transition leadership and unification committee was signed and the committee members, including Misuari, were even named but Misuari has kept mum about the Libya declaration.

For Calingasan, Bukidnon is never a part of the Final Peace Agreement.

“This will really bring trouble,” Calingasan told MindaNews.

He said it might lead to people being swayed to their flock with promise of high-paying positions and benefits.

“They convinced people. The people might no longer listen to us (the provincial government),” he said.

He said former governor Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. made sure the military deployed forces in entry points to the province to block entry of armed groups.

“If they want to enter, they should not bring firearms,” he added.

He said the provincial government will address the issue at its capacity without being confrontational.

Calingasan plans to talk to mayors and barangay captains to orient their constituents not to join.

Calingasan, who replaced Zubiri after the latter’s nine-year administration ended on June 30, has placed peace and order among his top priority.

“Peace and order is non-negotiable in our quest for development,” he said in his inaugural speech on June 28, two days before assuming power.

He vowed to make the PPOC a venue for dialogues on the peace and order situation in the province.(Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)