COMMENT: Disturbing questions (1) By Patricio P. Diaz

The paragraph: “Once, they were one – one in negotiating with the Philippine Government in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Then, the temptation of power split them.  Now, they are in disarray in reviewing the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.  That’s the story of the MNLF – divided into Misuari loyalists and Executive Council of the 15.”

Break Up

For 20 years after the Misuari-Salamat split up, the MNLF stayed together around Chairman Nur Misuari.  They were one in negotiating peace in Jakarta. Yet, five years after the signing of the Final Peace Agreement, the MNLF broke up into the Misuari loyalist and the Executive Council of the 15 factions.

Could the timing of the break up have just been incidental? Coup like, high ranking members of the Central Committee led by Vice Chairman Hatimil Hassan with Secretary General Muslimin Sema and others emerged in April 2001 as the Executive Council of the 15 and “retired” Misuari as “chairman emeritus”. Sema was Misuari’s vice chair in the Jakarta negotiation.

Why did this have to happen when the Area of the Autonomy was just preparing for the August 14 plebiscite to ratify RA 9054 that would expand the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao? With RA 9054 amending RA 6734, the original Organic Act, with provisions of the Final Peace Agreement, the implementation of the second phase of the Agreement was just about to begin.

The Executive Council of the 15 came a month after RA 9054, which Misuari had vehemently objected to, had lapsed into law. Instead of supporting Misuari’s objections, his top lieutenants who had been with him through thick and thin since the founding of the MNLF deserted him.

The Plot

The desertion of their chief was uncharacteristic of revolutionaries who had long fought side by side. For the MNLF’s cause, Misuari’s insistence to correct the flaws of RA 9054 was critical. What could have caused Hassan, Sema, et al. to abandon Misuari?

Reports from reliable sources had it that Malacañang had wanted to remove Misuari from power.  Executive Council of the 15 was the instrument to do it without earning the ire – but hopefully the approval — of Misuari’s patron, the Organization of Islamic Conference. What looked like an ace was to deprive him of his power base.

Why was it imperative to get rid of Misuari?  He had become a disappointment and a thorn to the administration. He had been badgering Manila with demands for funds for ARMM projects. He had become increasingly critical of the way the Agreement was being implemented and he had sent adverse reports to the OIC.

Misuari had met MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim three times when they formed 10-men panels to explore the MNLF-MILF reunification. Because of his reports, the OIC issued two successive resolutions – one in 2000 and the other in 2001 – calling for the Tripartite Meeting to review the implementation of the Agreement.

The Government must have underestimated Misuari. In the past, enticed with power and perks, MNLF commanders “returned” to the folds of the law with their men. Besides depleting the rebel force, as “returnees” they served as government propaganda.  The biggest haul was in 1978 when Commander Ronnie, the chief of the Kutawato Revolutionary Committee, and his foreign trained field commanders, surrendered.

But Misuari was different. The Arroyo government found him a true-blue MNLF, too devoted to the MNLF cause to be pulled by the nose. With what perks, besides power, were the MNLF vice chairman, secretary-general and others in the Central Committee enticed to form the Executive Council of the 15 is left to speculation.

The first stage in depriving Misuari of his power base seemed to have worked. Obviously according to script, the government immediately recognized EC-15 “as the legitimate, collective leadership of the MNLF”.

But that was the first and the last stage. Misuari remained chairman with undiminished support of the MNLF and the OIC. Ousted from the Central Committee by the loyal members, the EC-15 members were without mass and armed followers. Later events exposed the sham.

Revelations

But the plot had served the purpose of the Arroyo government. Misuari was soon to be out of the ARMM. When Manila refused to honor the OIC resolution calling for the postponement of the plebiscite and election to 2003, Misuari resolved not to run for reelection. For Malacañang, that must have been most welcome.

On November 6, 2001 – 20 days before the ARMM election – during a dinner at Malacañang with pro-administration leaders of Muslim Mindanao, President Arroyo commended “the MNLF Executive Council [of the 15] for spearheading the effort at political and moral rearmament” and glowingly endorsed Dr. Parouk Hussin, of the Council, for governor, who handily won.

In her speech, her message was clear, though subtle, that she distrusted Misuari, that she saw Misuari as not credible in the eyes of the OIC, and that Misuari’s lack of credibility was the reason for the Arab countries to withhold assistance funds and for the exclusion of the ARMM from East Asian Growth Area.

What she did not reveal, but revealed by later events, was her desire for the Philippines to wrest from the MNLF its observer status in the OIC and to control the vote-rich Muslim Mindanao for her own political aggrandizement.

Subtle Rhetoric

In subtle rhetoric, President Arroyo revealed why Misuari must go.

Referring to OIC members: “They are all waiting for a credible ARMM governor close to the national administration so that all OPEC fund, the Saudi Arabian fund, the Kuwaiti Fund and all those other funds can be felt by the people of Muslim Mindanao.” Hussin was that governor.

Misuari was blaming Manila for the lack of progress in the ARMM: “We do not want any more blame tossing after this [election].”

For her campaign to stamp out terrorism in Mindanao: “I need an ARMM governor in whom I have confidence that he will support me all the way and not distract me with his own threats on whether I will treat him well or not.”

In revitalizing the BIMP-EAGA sub-region: “For us to be able to make this … sub-regional coalition work, I need again to have a governor of ARMM that I can rely on and [to not watch] my back because he’s there.”

Short-lived

The EC-15 and Hussin proved unworthy of Arroyo’s trust, desire and high expectations. In the ARMM election of August 8, 2005, she refused to endorse Hussin for reelection.  Hussin had failed the President – not so much in meeting her glowing expectations as in failing to deliver votes for her in the 2004 election even if he was her special senatorial candidate.

Lakas – Muslim-Christian Democrats, the administration party, supported Zaldy Ampatuan for Zaldy’s father, Gov. Andal Ampatuan, was able to deliver solid Maguindanao votes to Arroyo. The MNLF boycotted the election, but not Hatimil Hassan, who, after failing in his bid for Lakas-MCD endorsement for governor, ran for reelection and won as Basilan assemblyman.

“The GRP-sponsored Council of the 15,” having lost its usefulness to the Arroyo administration — to quote Fr. Eliseo R. Mercado Jr., OMI — “has self-liquidated (sic) in February 2006.”

Not only the C-15 but the MNLF lost political control of the ARMM. Of the 24 members of the present Regional Assembly, Hassan is the only MNLF I know. Unless there are MNLF among the 23 others, there is only one MNLF elective official in the Ampatuan ARMM.

In Disarray

According to Father Mercado, “They [Council of the 15] all now acknowledge the leadership of Nur Misuari; but the problem is the fact — that they were hoping that they would all be  re-instated to their former positions in the MNLF hierarchy — did NOT happen.

“Nur is now the SOLE recognized and acclaimed leader of the MNLF. This is also the recognition of the OIC [which] still recognizes the MNLF as the sole and legitimate representative of the entire Bangsamoro.” The Philippines failed in its bid for an observer status in the OIC.

However, with Misuari under detention facing the crime of rebellion, the MNLF appears to be in disarray.  This was quite evident in the composition of the MNLF delegation to the Tripartite Meeting in Jeddah last November 10-12.

This raises more disturbing questions. (To Be Continued)

(“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." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).

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