COMMENT: MNLF: When? Who? By Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/06 February)  –The Jabidah Massacre on March 18, 1968 was one of the major catalysts of the Moro militant youth reform movements bordering on secession that led to the organization of the Moro National Liberation Front. The MNLF foundation day is celebrated on March 18, 1968 in commemoration of that historically ignominious event and Nur Misuari is proclaimed as the MNLF founder.

Was the MNLF founded on March 18, 1968? Was Misuari its founder?

Contradictions

Only Chairman Nur Misuari and his loyal followers proclaim March 18, 1968 as the founding day of the MNLF. Some Moro leaders of the secessionist movements who are certainly knowledgeable of the founding of the MNLF could only give the founding year 1969 with no exact month and day; others which includes foreign writers, 1971; and, still others, 1972 or 1973 after the declaration of Martial Law.

Mohagher Iqbal, who was among the original members of the MNLF and now chairman of the MILF peace panel, writing as “Salah Jubair”, has a detailed account of the MNLF including its founding in his book BANGSAMORO: A Nation under Endless Tyranny, pp. 149-157. Of the decision to found the MNLF, he said:

It “was made in 1969 by young secular-minded students and professionals in Manila.  The decision was consummate for the stakes were high and laden with danger.  But it was not a carelessly thought-out decision. …”

This is partly corroborated in, “Short History of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)”, an article posted in royalsulu.com, the website of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, when the Sultan of Sulu granted Misuari “the rank and title of Datu (Prince) of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo/Sabah”. It says: “The MNLF was established in 1969 by a group of young educators and academics who were the core of the Bangsamoro leadership” — and went on to emphasize – “headed by a visionary and stalwart leader … NUR P. MISUARI as the chairman and founder…”

“Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)”, posted in www.fas.org, website of FAS (Federation of American Scientists) Intelligence Resource Program, partly corroborates Jubair without mention of the year or date of founding: “The MNLF was conceptualized and organized by Abul Khayr Alonto and Jallaludin Santos. … With Muslim congressmen and leaders as advisers, they recruited young Muslims from different tribes…”. On the suggestion of Santos, Alonto “persuaded Nur [Misuari] to join the movement”. Alonto, declining to chair the MNLF, opted for Misuari instead. “Accordingly, Misuari became Chairman though not the founder or leader,”

“Moro National Liberation Front”, posted in www.bookrags.com states: “The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was created around 1971 from a group of young Philippine Muslims who had undergone training in Malaysia.” Another posting, “Nur Misuari,” mentions Misuari as MNLF “founding chairman” who “was … one of a group of young Philippine Muslims who undertook guerrilla training in Malaysia …” In his “War in Moroland (Last Phase)”, Macapanton Abbas Jr. said “Top 90”, the first batch, returned in 1971 then “secretly organized” the MNLF headed by Misuari and Alonto.

“History of the Moro National Liberation Front”, posted in www.mtholyoke.edu, website of Mount Holyoke College in the United States, says: “In 1972, the institution of martial law led to more Moro rebellions. These Moro forces were brought together by Nur Misuari who consolidated the forces in the MNLF framework, which he eventually chaired…” To MHC researchers, the MNLF was established not earlier than 1973.

Bob East of the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, in his paper, “Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF): A Profile of Determination”, says: “The exact date of official foundation of the MNLF is open to interpretation” – even if “… Nur Misuari claims it was 1968”, citing references – in effect summing up the contradictions in the year the MNLF was founded.

Organization

To rephrase Jubair’s (Iqbal’s) description of the MNLF organization:

After the founding in 1969, Nur Misuari became chairman of a seven-man Provisional Central Committee; Abulkhayr Alonto, vice chairman. Otto Salahuddin of Basilan, Ali Alibon of Davao, Lumet Hassan (“King Size”) of Cotabato and Sali Wali of Zamboanga held the other portfolios. Salamat Hashim, the lone representative of the Cairo group, headed the undivided Empire Province of Cotabato where a provincial committee was set up immediately.

In the second half of 1972, a meeting in Sabah facilitated by Chief Minister Datu Tun Mustapha Haron elected and installed Misuari as the permanent Chairman of the Central Committee. Misuari’s election came after Salamat, who was a candidate together with Dr. Saleh Loong, withdrew and endorsed him.

Early in 1973, Misuari established his headquarters in Sabah and directed the early fighting in Mindanao and Sulu from there. With the full-scale fighting going on, Salamat stayed in Cotabato until December 1973 when Misuari instructed him to go to Libya for consultation and to assume his new assignment in the Foreign Service leaving the KRC to Amelil “Ronnie” Malaguiok.

In 1975, Misuari joined Salamat in Libya and there with the other MNLF leaders expanded the MNLF Central Committee. Misuari was reelected chairman; Alonto, vice chairman (in absentia); Salamat, chairman of Foreign Affairs with Abdulbaki Abubakar as deputy chairman; Abebakrin  Lucman, secretary general; Abdurasad Asani, chairman of the Committee on Information; and the remaining offices to Misuari’s trusted men.

Recapitulation

On the first issue: That the March 18, 1968 Jabidah Massacre led to the organization of the MNLF is an uncontroverted fact; but that the MNLF was founded on that day is most improbable. Arula, the lone survivor, was rescued from the sea by Cavite fishermen in the morning of March 19. He was taken to Assemblyman Justiniano S. Montano in Tanza, Cavite where he stayed under Montano’s protection. It took a few more days for the news about the massacre to break out in the open.

The MNLF was secretly organized.  That, too, is an uncontroverted fact.  In fact, months after the rebellion broke out on February 27, 1973 the rebel propaganda did not identify “MNLF” but “Moro Fighters” as the rebels. That secrecy spawned the contradictions.  Like the blind men in the story who each described the elephant according to the part of the animal he touched, the writers on the history of the MNLF placed the year of its founding according to “the bits of the secret” they each came to know and interpret.

While 1969 is most probable, anyone who does not believe it may just say: “The MNLF was founded after March 18, 1968.”

Is it wrong for the MNLF to celebrate its foundation day on March 18 of every year in commemoration of the March 18, 1968 Jabidah Massacre?

Not necessarily.  Proclaiming March 18, 1968 as MNLF foundation day is wrong since it is improbable. But, considering March 18 as MNLF founding day in the absence of a known definite date and celebrating it in commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre is not necessarily wrong; there are precedents.

Just to cite three:

The Philippines became politically independent on July 4, 1946. But Filipinos celebrate their Independence Day on June 12 in commemoration of the June 12, 1898 Declaration of Philippine Independence by General Emilio Aguinaldo.

The United States of America became “officially” and “formally” independent in the September 3, 1783 Treaty of Paris. Yet, Americans celebrates their Independence Day on July 4 to commemorate the issuance of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 by the Second Continental Congress.

General Santos became a city on July 8, 1968 upon the approval of R.A. No. 6412 and was inaugurated on the following September 5. Yet, General Santos City Foundation Day is celebrated on February 27 to commemorate the founding of Lagao Settlement District of the Koronadal Valley Settlement Project by General Paulino Santos on February 27, 1939, reckoning its cityhood from that date – the only city which was already a city when it was still a wilderness. Ridiculous but still it is a precedent. [NOTE: Because of Lagao and the port of Dadiangas, the Municipal District of Buayan where they were situated became a regular municipality in 1948.  Buayan was renamed “General Santos” in 1954.]

On the Second Issue: Misuari is the MNLF founding chairman — the only chairman recognized by the Organization of Islamic Conference until now despite the challenge of the Salamat group in 1977 and by his erstwhile loyal lieutenants forming the Executive Council of the 15 in 2001. But that does not necessarily make him THE Founder.

By existing accounts the MNLF was founded by young Moro intellectuals and academics – one such account specifically naming Alonto and Santos who invited Misuari to join. Even if Misuari was later elected as founding chairman through the courtesy of Alonto, he was not THE Founder but just one among the founders together with the founding members.

Misuari’s sterling leadership in steering the MNLF rebellion to climax in the signing of the Jakarta Accord or the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Ramos Government is unquestionable. Yet that does not make him THE Founder since he was just one among the intellectuals and academics who founded the MNLF.

Conclusion

To put to rest the two issues, the MNLF and its founders should come up with documents or testimonies to clarify the history of its foundation. Where and when was the MNLF founded? How was it founded? Who were the key founders specifying the role of each? Who decided to celebrate its founding on March 18? Once these were secrets; declassify them now since MNLF has become an interesting part of history.

By that the year, month and day when the MNLF was founded can be ascertained; and, hopefully, the role of Misuari as THE Founder can be explained, if he was truly THE One.  Until then, let it just be said that the MNLF was founded after March 18, 1968 with 1969 as the most probable; and that Misuari, the Founding Chairman, was one of the founders not necessarily THE Founder.

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” He was conferred the 1st Agong Awards for Journalism by the Mindanao Media Forum early November this year. You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])

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