Diffusing a tense situation

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The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) assault on Zamboanga City appears to be the result of escalating fears that have gone out of control. The national government had better move quickly to diffuse the situation, lest it worsen to the point where an all-out war breaks out.

According to an MNLF spokesman, they were forced to take drastic measures in order to protect founder Nur Misuari, as there were reports – rumors is more like it – that an arrest warrant had been issued for their leader.

While there does not appear to be any truth to the reports, the MNLF was still alarmed at what they said was “unusual” troop movement on the part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Why Zamboanga City has become a potential flash point again is puzzling as the Christian-dominated city is not part of the current or the proposed Muslim homeland that the national government is obligated to set up. Yet the city is precisely where Misuari supposedly planned to hold “consultations,” whatever he means by that.


As usual, Misuari has not issued any statement. Over the decades, he has come to understand the ways of local politics and of doubletalk. Whether he actually declared an independent Moro republic or not last month remains unclear, as Misuari himself has given conflicting statements on the issue.

He still claims leadership of the MNLF, although in truth the organization that he founded in the late ‘60s has been split into two factions. Moreover, the MNLF today is nowhere near the potent fighting force it once was, what with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – itself a spin off from the organization – becoming the more dominant of the Moro groups fighting for a homeland.

Both the MNLF and MILF have agreed to set up an autonomous state, and the Philippine government has signed an agreement with the former to that effect. Unfortunately, the two Moro organizations cannot see eye to eye.

If the national government sides with the MNLF, there can be no peace with the MILF, and if the national government were to forge a peace pact with the MILF, the Misuari faction of the MNLF will not be part of it. It’s a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, whatever the government does.

In holding talks with the MILF, the administration is betting that the larger of the Moro groups will be able to control the smaller one, and prevent the kind of crisis that is happening now.

Perhaps the government should authorize the MILF to take whatever steps necessary to convince Misuari to rethink his present course of action.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which was formed after the peace pact with the MNLF was finalized and which was led by Misuari himself for a while, has not uplifted the lot of the Filipino Muslim community, AKA Moros.

A threat by the Misuari faction of the MNLF that the Zamboanga situation can become worse than the state of war that occurred in 1972 will not help diffuse the situation. If anything, it serves as an invitation to the AFP to engage them in hostilities.

One thing is clear. Misuari cannot win, but his faction of the MNLF is more than capable of causing mayhem in large parts of Mindanano.

The question is how to neutralize, appease or silence him into submission.

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