COMMENT: The Misuari Puzzle

The Odds


As a detainee under house arrest whose movements outside his detention house are controlled by the court, he had no full freedom to campaign. In fact, he was given only a 24-hour leave to file his candidacy in Jolo and a very limited time to campaign close to Election Day. How effective was his party machinery without him leading? How much campaign funds did he have?

How did he expect to win against Gov. Benjamin Loong and the come-backing former governor Abdusakur Tan? Both seasoned politicians, they had traditional bailiwicks and big clan-base followers. They had the party machinery and the luxury of time and money to campaign.

His 5-year stint as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, 1996-2001, was disastrous. Aside from his loyal followers, the people of Sulu must have gravely doubted his fitness to be governor. Besides, would the court release him should he win?

Did he not see the odds? Did he ignore them and expect that these could be overcome by votes in sympathy for his 5-year detention which he had decried as unjust? If the 19,121 votes he got were sympathy votes they were far from enough to make him win.

Was he counting on the votes of his loyal followers and sympathizers in the MNLF-influenced areas? Unluckily, the hostilities that broke out last April 13 between the forces of Ustadz Habier Malik and the military prevented the MNLF from campaigning and voting for him. About 80,000 from the MNLF-influenced areas evacuated and could not vote for him.

If the 19,121 votes that he got were sympathy votes, they were far from enough to make him win. The odds were obviously too much. And bad luck dogged him.


Sometime in December or earlier, there was a report that President Arroyo was eyeing Misuari to run for election in Sulu. When he eventually ran, according to reports, he did under Kabalikat ng Malayang Pililipino (Kampi), the President’s party.

Did Malacañang entice him to run with the assurance of victory while knowing he would lose? Why deceive him? To discredit him politically.

The coup by the MNLF Executive Council of the 15 in April 2001 that ousted Misuari from the chairmanship and conferred on him the honorary title “chairman emeritus” has not weakened his leadership. He continues to enjoy recognition from the Organization of Islamic Conference as MNLF Chairman. The OIC wants him to lead the MNLF delegation at the forthcoming tripartite Jeddah conference to review the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

Misuari’s leadership must have been an obstacle to the bid of the Philippine government for an observer’s status in the OIC Ministerial Conference. The government must have hoped to win the observer’s status when it recognized the Executive Council of the 15 as the sole MNLF representative in the government.

Price of Defeat

Now Malacañang can show to the OIC the election results in Sulu to prove that Misuari is really not the Muslim leader he appears to be. The people in Sulu, his home province, rejected his bid to be their governor despite his promise to end the fighting in Sulu should he be elected.

To many of his critics in the ARMM and in Mindanao, his poor showing in the Sulu election – garnering just 12.20 percent of the total votes cast for governor – confirms their opinion of him as a poor governor. Has Misuari realized the high price of his defeat?

True. His followers are asking the Commission on Election to declare a failure of election in Sulu. An eye-witness – the lone representative of election watchdog LENTE (Legal Network for Truthful Election) – described the election in Sulu “Grabe!”. From her account, the fraud there was worse than that in Maguindanao. Will the Comelec declare a failure of election? Never!

High MNLF officials bewailed Misuari’s loss as a setback to Sulu peace. If it is true that Misuari as governor could stop the fighting then Sulu would be paying a high price for his defeat.

The greatest puzzle then is this: Why did the President not persuade Governor Loong and former Governor Tan to withdraw and let Misuari run alone? With no fighting in Sulu, the government will save hundreds of billion of pesos for economic development – starting from Sulu itself.

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at