COMMENT: ‘Free Misuari’: Gloria’s Test

The MNLF challenged Arroyo to free Chairman Nur Misuari “also for reconciliation and unity”.

“Releasing Misuari from jail will contribute to the ongoing peace venture of Malacañang with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” said MNLF Interim Vice Chairman Hatimil Hassan. “If they pardoned Estrada, why not Misuari, too?” (INQUIRER.net, October 27)

Detained but not yet tried, Misuari is not eligible for pardon. He should only be freed. This the MNLF must ask in their “urgent letter of appeal to the President” being drafted by Secretary General Muslimin Sema. While Arroyo cannot yet pardon Misuari, she can intervene for his release and that of 100 other MNLF members arrested with Misuari.

Privileged

Except for the facts that Estrada has been convicted of plunder, a heinous crime, and Misuari has been charged of rebellion, a political offense, Misuari is a privileged detainee – though to a lesser degree – like Estrada. Misuari, until his transfer to Manila under house arrest, had been detained in a well furnished house specially built for Estrada in the police camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

Misuari was governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao when his men in Sulu attacked military detachments in November 2001 obviously in response to Misuari’s vehement protest over the manner government had been implementing the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

Misuari sought refuge in Sabah, Malaysia but the Malaysian government arrested him and turned him over to the Philippine government. Since January 2002, he has been in detention. He has not yet been tried – a real case of justice delayed, justice denied – unlike Estrada, who was immediately tried but the trial dragged to six years because of Estrada’s legal maneuvers.

Reconciliation

President Arroyo and her spin doctors – particularly Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye Jr. and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno – have persistently hyped the people with the idea that pardoning Estrada would reconcile the wounded and unite the divided nation. Will Arroyo be moved by the MNLF’s invocation of the same hype?

Citing Estrada’s pardon as a precedent, Hadji Charlie Apostol, MNLF information officer, said that Misuari’s “offense is political in nature and he is entitled to political clemency” and “the MNLF believes that a pardon for Misuari would also boost the spirit of reconciliation and unity, especially in Mindanao”.

Professor Abhoud Sayeed Mansur-Lingga, director of the Institute for Bangsamoro Studies in Cotabato City, echoing the MNLF call, said: “Like Estrada, Misuari should be released for humanitarian reasons.”

Real

That the Filipino nation is “wounded” and “divided” is a controversial statement. That Estrada is a vital factor to the healing and the unifying of the nation is more controversial – in fact akin to differentiating fact from fiction. This we will discuss in another essay.

But the alienation of the Muslims in Mindanao is real. Witness to that is the forty years of Muslim struggle for self-determination that the 1996 peace agreement between the government and the MNLF has failed to fully solve and that the ongoing government-MILF peace talk is hoped to end. Alienation is the root of the endless war of terror in Basilan and Sulu.

That Misuari’s incarceration has set back peace efforts in Mindanao, especially in Sulu, should not be dismissed or underrated. There are no “rogue” MNLF forces in Sulu. What the military call “rogue” are MNLF forces loyal to Misuari. When they stop fighting, there will be no more Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. Very obviously, the “rogue” and Abu Sayyaf are one and the same in the eyes of the military.

Will Misuari’s release make a difference in favor of the peace efforts in Mindanao? This is an open question. But Malacañang will be committing a big mistake if it dismisses Misuari as a washed-up Moro rebel leader. The loyalty of the MNLF fighters in Sulu and Mindanao to Misuari is more real than the much-hyped loyalty of the poor to Estrada. How many among the poor hailing Estrada as their “hero” are willing to die for him?

That Misuari is still looked up to as a Muslim leader is more real than Estrada’s pretension that as “an elected leader” he will continue his fight for the poor. In the oft-postponed Jeddah meet to review the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, the MNLF wants Misuari to lead its delegation; the Organization of Islamic Conference mediating and facilitating the talk has asked the Philippine government to allow Misuari to lead the MNLF delegation.

How will the release of Misuari, as Hatimil Hassan says, “contribute to the ongoing peace venture of Malacañang with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front”? That will go a long way to affirm Manila’s sincerity to do justice to the Muslims to which the MILF is most sensitive.

The release of Misuari is a more real factor to the easing of Muslim alienation than the pardon of Estrada is to “reconciliation and unification” of the Filipino nation. Aside from media hype, Estrada is a non-factor in Arroyo’s problem to reconcile and unite the nation. Misuari’s case is an added factor to Muslim alienation.

Can; May Not

Will Arroyo take the MNLF seriously? Will she release Misuari? She can. But she may not.

If the MNLF, in its letter of appeal, asks that Misuari be pardoned, Arroyo on her own or on the advice of her advisers may reason that Misuari, having not been convicted, cannot be pardoned. That’s legally and technically correct.

If the MNLF would ask for Misuari’s release, she and her advisers may say that Misuari is under the jurisdiction of the court. Under the doctrine of separation of powers, the executive should not interfere with the doings of the judiciary. Again, that’s technically correct.

However, can Arroyo intervene without violating the doctrine of separation of powers? From Day One of Estrada’s plunder case, she had intervened. She had no qualms in violating the doctrine. Why should she have qualms in the case of Misuari? There are no reasons to.

When Misuari was transferred to Manila under house arrest, it was reported that his case was under review – a review ordered by then Justice Secretary Simeon A. Datumanong in 2003. It’s the prosecution under the Department of Justice that’s doing the review. If it finds the case weak, it may withdraw the case. Then the court will order Misuari released.

If Malacañang sends a message to the justice secretary that it wants Misuari released, Misuari will be free – without delay, without violating the separation doctrine.

There is another option. Misuari and his 100 followers under detention are political offenders. Arroyo can amnesty them. Amnesty Proclamation 1377 for the Communist rebels signed last September 5 may not apply to Misuari; however, a special one can be issued.

The MNLF and the Muslims know what the Palace and Arroyo can do. Not releasing Misuari will deepen the MNLF resentment and Muslim alienation.

("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 [email protected])

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