Duterte joining MNLF group to Jeddah as observer

Duterte said he already agreed to MNLF chair Nur Misuari when the latter asked him to join as observer.

After several postponements by the government, the date of the tripartite meeting was finally set after the "Sulu situation" over the weekend wherein Undersecretary Ramon Santos, Marine Brig. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino and 23 others were asked to “stay over” — some say “hostaged” — in an MNLF camp.

They were reported to have "stepped out" of the MNLF camp after the date of the meeting was set on March 17 to 18.

Dolorfino, however, admitted they were hostaged because they were forced to stay against their will.

Duterte did not give details on why he was included in the delegation. But Duterte said he has been a staunch advocate for the release of Misuari. He said he has already arranged that if Misuari be freed, it would be in Davao where he will provide "board and lodging" to the detained Moro leader.

Duterte met with Rev. Absalom Cerveza, spokesperson of the MNLF peace panel, after talking to reporters Wednesday in Barangay Mini-Forest, where most of Davao's Muslim population are based.

An MNLF official asked the media to step out of a fast food joint where the meeting was held. He said there are information in the meeting that could not be released to the media yet.

Supporters have sought the unconditional release of Misuari so he could lead the MNLF delegation to the Jeddah.

The OIC, which brokered the GRP-MNLF peace talks concluded in the 1996 final peace agreement, has invited the government and the MNLF to the meeting to review the implementation of the peace agreement, recommend proposals, and set up monitoring mechanisms.

From a series of consultations through the so-called Bangsamoro Peoples Congress, supporters resolved to allow Misuari to select who will comprise the MNLF delegation.

The government has claimed that it implemented 80 percent of the 1996 agreement, but the MNLF said only the integration of the MNLF forces to the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police have been almost completely complied with.

In his speech here on Sept. 2, during the 10th year anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement, Misuari called the agreement as "already dead" and must thus be "exhumed and revived" if the government wants peace to prevail in Mindanao.

Misuari has been detained since January 2002 on rebellion charges for the November 2001 uprising of his men in Sulu and Cabatangan in Zamboanga City.

An MNLF official last year said in an interview that the success of the tripartite meeting is crucial "or else, we may again go back to square one," he warned.

A delegation from the OIC arrived in the Philippines in May to look into the implementation of the 10-year-old peace agreement and met with Misuari in his new detention house. They went around key areas in Mindanao.

The delegation urged the government to free Misuari for the Jeddah meeting it is hosting.

During his audience with civil society in Davao, Ambassador Sayed El-Masry, adviser to the secretary-general of the OIC and head of delegation of the OIC field visit to southern Philippines, stressed the need for the meeting.

"For peace to really be permanent, it has to be just. One of the parties thinks the agreement has not been implemented. The purpose of proposing a meeting in Jeddah is for this, (for the parties) to sit together with open hearts and minds and only after that can we reach an assessment of the situation," El-Masry said.

He said in May that until now, there is "wide gap" between the reports of the parties on the implementation of the peace pact. "We are trying to narrow the gap."