MNLF chair Yusoph Jikiri, 66: a “beacon of peace,” a “great mujahid”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 18 October) – Yusoph Jikiri, chair of a large faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), succumbed to bone cancer in his hometown in Pasil, Indanan, Sulu late Saturday evening. He had just turned 66 on October 7.

Jikiri was Chief of Staff when the 1996 Final Peace Agreement was signed between government and the MNLF. He was elected Governor of Sulu from 2001 to 2004, lost to Benjamin Loong in his reelection bid and was elected 1st district Representative from 2007 to 2010.

MindaNews sources said Jikiri was airlifted to Manila from Sulu a few days ago where a medical procedure was suggested but he opted to return to his hometown on October 16. He passed away at 11 p.m. on October 17.

Yusoph Jikir, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front, former Sulu Govenror and 1st district Representative, on 28 January 2020 during a meeting with representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation at the Seda Hotel in Davao City. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

In his inaugural speech as Governor in 2001, Jikiri said: “My government is your government, for truly I belong to you, I am among you, a son of a poor family. To this land I give my life, body and soul. Let me, therefore, seek your cooperation. Come to me as your elder brother, (or) even as your father and together we can make this land great once more in history.”

Jikiri was a member of the MNLF Council of 15 that was organized in early 2001. The Council took over the leadership of the MNLF from Nur Misuari whom it named as  Chairman Emeritus.

He assumed the chairmanship of the MNLF in February 2017, succeeding Muslimin Sema.  In January 2019, he spoke at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex in Cotabato City to express the MNLF’s support for the ratification of Republic Act 11054, the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The MNLF under the Jikiri-Sema faction was represented in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the law and in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the 80-member body that is govering the BARMM during the transition period until June 30, 2022.

In a message, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. called Jikiri a “beacon of peace.”

Galvez said the MNLF Central Committee under Jikiri’s stewardship partnered with the Armed Force of the Philippines in 2017, as they launched an anti-kidnapping and terrorism task force to end the menace of terror groups, particularly the Abu Sayyaf, in Sulu.

“Till the very end, Brother Jikiri’s main concern was to bring the full realization of the Bangsamoro people, harness the full economic potential of the Bangsamoro homeland, while creating the conditions where sustainable peace could take root. His ultimate goal was to create a better and brighter future for the Bangsamoro people,” he said.

Former Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, who served the post under the Arroyo and Duterte administration, said he was sad to hear of Jikiri’s death.

“He was always soft spoken and gentle in his ways. He preferred to stay behind the scene even during those times when he became the leader of the Council of 15 of the MNLF, Sulu congressman and a revered MNLF leader. We both had unforgettable times together. Rest In Peace Partner. My memories of you will never end although you are gone,”  Dureza wrote on his Facebook page. .

Legacy of dedication

Naguib Sinarimbo, Minister for Interior and Local Government and BARMM, called Jikiri “another great mujahid.”

Sinarimbo said Jikiri as Chief of Staff of the MNLF’s Bangsa Moro Army “led his forces in defending our communities”  under Marcos’ martial law.

He said they were in a meeting Saturday night with the Chief Minister and MILF chair Ahod Balawag Ebrahim and briefly discussed Jikiri’s health condition.

“We take comfort in the fact that Chairman Jikiri has served well his Creator and his people. May his good deeds be rewarded by Allah and his sins forgiven. May Allah admit him in jannatul Firdaus.”

The new leaders of the MNLF in a press conference in Pagadian City in February 2017 (left to right): Yusoph Jikiri, Chair; Muslimin Sema, Chair of the Bangsamoro People’s Congress; Prof. Duma Sani, Vice Chair; Hatimil Hassan, Vice Chair, Internal Affairs; Maj. Gen. Datun “Doc” Diocolano, Chief of Staff, BAF: Abdul Sahrin, Secretary General; Rasul Rasdi, Deputy Secretary General; and Firdausi Abbas, Vice Chair, External Affairs. Photo courtesy of OMAR SEMA

Bangsamoro Member of Parliament Jose Iribani Lorena, a member of the MNLF peace panel that negotiated the 1996 FPA, wrote: “my chief, my chairman and best friend left a legacy of dedication, compassion and love for the Bangsamoro cause. He was a benevolent leader and freedom fighter  May the almighty Allah grant him mercy and reward him for his service as a martyr. Till we meet again my brother.”

Addressing leaders of the Bangsamoro struggle, MP Omar Crisostomo Sema, son of Muslimin Sema whom Jikiri succeeded as chair, said, “may the ‘Chief’s’ passing away make us realize that our terms here in this world is limited and temporary, that the tasks we have put on ourselves for our Hula, Bangsa and Agama must be realized and achieved with careful haste. We must realize our mandate whether in the MNLF, MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) or the Bangsamoro Government. Let’s do it quick!”

Magsukul (Thank you)

Susan Palad, who married Jikiri in the late 1990s, said she repeatedly explained to their two children that their father “does not belong to us but to his people.”  The marriage lasted until Jikiri became so busy with his new role as Sulu Governor

Palad wrote about Jikiri on her Facebook page on September 24, thanking him for their two children.

Moro National Liberation Front Chair Yusoph Jikiri delivers a message of support during the Peace Assembly for the ratification of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. BOL in Cotabato City on 18 January 2019. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

She remembers Jikiri as a “kind man” who was “generous to a fault.”

“Humble because of his poor beginnings. His house in Pasil, Indanan (in Sulu) during his MNLF days was a small one with no wooden floors. Just the hard earth,” she asid.

When Jikiri was Governor of Sulu, “he slept on a piece of carton while taking a ride in the overloaded boat from Jolo to Zamboanga.”

Palad remembers how Jikiri would wait outside the office of Nur Misuari, MNLF Chair and Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from 1996 to 2001, to “wait for his turn in in the long steady line of visitors until a staff would spot him and immediately bring him inside Misuari’s office. He will always stay ‘unahin mo ba yung mga tao na nangangailangan ng tulong,’”

She described Jikiri as “one of the fiercest warriors of the MNLF” and when then President Fidel Ramos visited Jolo,  he asked Misuari who Jikiri was and Misuari “pointed out to this man clinging for dear life at the back of the jeep.‘That, Mr President is the Chief of Staff of the MNLF!’”

His 22-year old daughter, Sana-a Elizabeth wrote: “If we were given another chance, we would do things differently. God knows how eager I was to feel your presence while growing up. I get a lot of hugs from people but none of them were as warm as yours.”

“I don’t know much about you but i know you are a great man and a pride of Sulu. Every time I’m in the island, I always think about you and that’s why I’ve taken interest in going to conflict affected areas and help improve the relationship with the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the people because I knew that was also your goal in life — to spread peace,” she added.

She said she is “always proud” of her father and “am forever grateful. I have no regrets that you are my father. I love you forever, Ama. Rest well.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)