THE PHILSOUTH LINE: How ready are we for the MNLF?

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/17 September)—I came home weeks ago and immediately was off to Sulu after just a few days in Zamboanga. In Talipao, Patikul and Indanan towns where I have gone to, talks were already brewing about the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) regularly meeting and planning. As to what the details were, I was not privy to them.

A local security analyst opined, however, that “the national government is not yet geared to handle Nur (Misuari).”

In an earlier interview, Sulu Area Coordinating Council Executive Director Fazlur-Rahman Abdulla, who is also a member of the Ulama Council in Sulu, said that while he is not in conformity with the plans and radical movements of the MNLF, “Prof. Misuari cannot be underestimated simply because of his age. His physical self may be aging, but he is a political strategist. We cannot also underestimate his wisdom.”

I believe that with the turn of events regarding the security crisis in Zamboanga City, the national government under the current national and regional leaderships is not ready to handle the MNLF as a revolutionary organization.

It was in Sulu when Abdullah told me how he observed that the MNLF “has deliberately disengaged already” from negotiations.

Could the MNLF have already offered their peaceful remedies or exhausted their efforts to reach out to the Philippine Government? The public cannot tell. Misuari has not opened himself to a full-length discussion of his plans, nor has the organization formally sat down not even to address their issues to media, when the emissaries failed. Misuari has simply stressed that he is ailing, and has “no knowledge or control” over the offensive operations of his supposed lead MNLF commander. But why has not Misuari ever made a call or appeal to Malik and his men to withdraw? The MNLF may be in factions now, but many would still listen to Misuari because he still draws that respect. Someone has to advise this vital bit to Misuari himself.

What the public sees now are the atrocities, the direct violence inflicted upon innocent civilians, the armed hostilities that could have been prevented if only parties listened. But from the Commander-in-Chief, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, who is now at the helm of the crisis, holding office and in command at the Western Mindanao Command, there has been neither an order for a cessation of hostilities nor an offer of a non-violent solution.

Zamboanga is the regional headquarters of four major military installations, about 20 intelligence units, and while it is not the political seat of the regional government, it is the socio-economic and tourism hub of the Zamboanga Peninsula region and three provinces of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, though the city is not a part of the ARMM.

The crisis is nearly over, Aquino said. What he did not announce was the heaviest challenge confronting every Zamboangueño: Ciudad La Hermosa has been wreaked in havoc, leaving behind at least 82,000 internally displaced persons, and about half a million citizens shaking in fear of their lives now. Beyond crippling the economy and disturbing the city’s peace, Zamboanga will have to get over this growing hatred towards the MNLF. History now has another violent incident to add up to its timeline.

When there was an opportunity to listen to the MNLF, and dialogue with them, no one gave them the voice. Now they will not listen. Granting if Malik, Commander Ismael Dasta, and Commander Hayder and their men from Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay, or Misuari and his followers plan for a retaliatory re-entry, how ready are we for the MNLF the next time? Could we, this time, soberly and un-heatedly meet the issues they are posing with non-violence?

From the perspective of a Mindanao-based journalist who understands the culture and background of the parties, I would say, the best way to manage the MNLF is to engage them through peace communications: a clear-headed dialogue, with no language barriers, because language matters in every conflict settlement. After all, it was language that made possible the growth of civilization. ((MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Frencie Carreon is editor in chief of the PhilSouth Angle in Zamboanga City.)