DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 20 Aug) – I was not surprised when I heard MNLF CHAIRMAN NUR MISUARI a few days ago declaring independence for a “Bangsamoro Republik“. I recall writing an article in this corner many months ago entitled “DO NOT DISPARAGE MISUARI”. He assembled his thousands of followers in a show of force then in a horse race track in Davao City to make known his opposition to the MILF peace agreement. I had a suspicion at that time that this declaration would take place if his moves would not attract attention and corresponding response from the government. Nur’s consistent and strong statements opposing the framework agreement with the MILF were ominous. He wanted that the whole Philippine government peace process, including the MILF negotiations, factor in or take into account the existing MNLF peace agreement. It seemed he felt he was ignored. He feared that his nurtured 1996 Peace Agreement would be abrogated and set aside with the onset of the final peace agreement with the MILF.
RESTIVE – I am not sure now how things and events will spin out from here on. So far, statements coming from some MNLF leaders are moderate, if not conciliatory. An associate of MISUARI told me his movements were restricted. He was last reported to be still in Sulu. Worrisome however is the restiveness noted in some MNLF communities. Remember that there are still strong misgivings on the implementation of MNLF peace agreement. In fact, a Tripartite review started during my watch at OPAPP to look into these misgivings. Remember that the Final Peace Agreement with them in 1996 did not contain any provision on “disarmament” so their fighters, although transitioning to peaceful lives, kept their firearms somewhere. I know of some MNLF groups which buried their greased weaponry in plastic bags underground. I will not be surprised if some are starting to dig them up just in case.
VOLATILE – However, I note positive signs. Ustadz Habier MALIK, whose enclave in Sulu I personally visited sometime ago, was quoted as saying that “Maas” (referring to NUR, literally meaning “respected one”) will take a PEACEFUL route in pursuing the declaration of independence. I do hope so. BUT WE CAN NEVER TELL HOW VOLATILE EVENTS SUCH AS THESE COULD SPIN INTO.
MALIK, a religious leader who maintains an armed force in the fastnesses of Sulu, is one of the loyalists who “hostaged” Marine General BEN DOLORFINO and Gen. RAMON SANTOS, my OPAPP undersecretary, when they entered his camp to deliver some “goodies” and in a goodwill mission. They were prevented from leaving the camp for several days for one reason or another. I had to fly to Jolo and personally negotiate with Malik to set them free.
STILL AN ICON – NUR is still an “icon” to some Muslims. Although his capability to lead his people to wage war against the Philippine government is doubted by some quarters, he is still revered by those who believe in him. Even the Islamic world still held him in high esteem. This was evident when I attended several conferences of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in the Middle East where I saw for myself how he was received as if he was Head of State. Up to today, and as far as I know, he is still considered the representative of the country’s Bangsamoro by OIC leaders.
SABAH – This Bangsamoro Republik announcement can mean going to an instrumentality or agency of the United Nations seeking recognition of the “republik”. And my hope is that Misuari’s new mission for independence will remain within the realm of a non-violent, peaceful pursuit.
For sure, SABAH will be part of this Bangsamoro “republik”. The Sabah claim of the Sultanate of Sulu is also MNLF’s own aspiration. In fact, I got confidential information that those so-called Sultanate Army fighters who penetrated Sabah were actually MNLF forces from Sulu, wearing newly sewn Sultanate army uniforms.
Moreover, the angst of Nur against the Malaysians got worse when he was arrested in 2001 after a failed MNLF attack of Jolo. I recall that after escaping from Sulu, he landed in his usual Malaysian hideaway thinking and confident, albeit erroneously, that he was still enjoying sanctuary status. The Malaysians promptly intercepted him as soon as he landed and took him into custody. He was dumped in a detainee’s cell and cut off from the rest of the world for sometime. I was secretly dispatched to Malaysia (on board a C-130 plane in the middle of the night) to fetch Nur and fly him back to a waiting, specially furbished prison facility in Santa Rosa, Laguna. He spent almost the whole 5 hours of flying time from Kuala Lumpur to Manila relating to me how he was badly treated by the Malaysians. (And to think that many thought he was luxuriously billeted in some plush hotel or villa.) I was sure he did not expect such treatment from them who were his patrons and supporters during his rebellion days against Philippine authorities. Malaysia, in fact, was the arms supply depot and staging point of MNLF rebels at the height of the rebellion. NUR FAILED TO NOTICE, or perhaps ignored, THE PARADIGM SHIFT in the international scene.
NOT A SPENT FORCE – I have not personally talked to him for sometime now so I cannot as yet divine what’s in his mind.. But I am certain that how NUR will be handled from hereon will be crucial.
As things stand, we cannot afford to have another potentially explosive front to deal with while we are tackling the end game of the MILF peace agreement. Not to mention the upswing of terrorists’ incidents here and there.
But let me repeat: Do not discount nor ignore Misuari. Do not treat him as a spent force. Do not disparage him as one whose time has passed. Otherwise, we may all be in for a big, big surprise.
(Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW).