PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari have forged an alliance to step up the government’s fight against illegal drugs, criminality and terrorism in Mindanao.
The commitment was made during Duterte’s meeting with Misuari in Malacañang on Thursday.
“[In the] latest in a series of meetings with the MNLF leader, the President continues to forge a strong alliance with Chairman Misuari for their cooperation in the administration’s war against illegal drugs, criminality and terrorism in Mindanao,” the Presidential Communications Operations Office said.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said the government’s newly forged alliance with the MNLF displays growing cooperation with Moro rebel groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which had broken away from the MNLF.
“This is a positive view of MNLF influence in the Muslim areas and an affirmation of the peace agreement,” Casiple told The Manila Times.
The President has transmitted to Congress the new draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a legal framework for the establishment of a Bangsamoro region under a 2014 peace agreement with the MILF.
It widens the scope and powers of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that came out of a 1996 final peace deal with the MNLF during the Ramos administration.
Duterte was able to bring the MILF and MNLF together in the transition to the Bangsamoro region, which the latter previously rejected. The MNLF had claimed it was shut out of consultations for the planned Bangsamoro region in the previous Aquino administration.
Offer accepted, then rejected
The meeting came as government forces continue to battle the Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists who attacked Marawi City on May 23. The attacks in the city prompted Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao.
Duterte earlier said he had accepted the offer of Misuari for 2,000 of his men to join the fight against the Maute terrorists in Marawi City.
But he later said it would not be good to pit Moros against fellow Moros.
“Nur and I talked once… He offered to send 2,000 of his men. I said ‘Wait, not now. Not now, Nur,’” Duterte earlier said. “It’s not good to be fighting if they do not realize what it’s all about. A Moro against the Moro. Let us make them understand first what this is all about.”
During the “Mindanao Hour” news briefing at Conrad Hotel in Pasay City on Friday, Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said casualties in the battle between the government forces and Islamist gunmen stood at 686, as of August 3. These included 522 terrorists, 119 government troops, and 45 civilians.
Government security forces have rescued 1,724 civilians, cleared 13 buildings, and recovered 600 firearms.
Marawi troops in ‘high spirits’
In the same news conference, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. admitted that fighting the Maute terrorists had become more challenging.
“As we go through the military operations, it becomes a very close fight and the complexities on the ground are really becoming much more challenging,” Padilla told reporters.
He said government forces continued to beef up operations against Maute group in two villages of Marawi City, which remained “problematic” areas.
“Our troops are in high spirits following [the President’s visit on July 20]and are all raring to execute the succeeding operations on the ground to complete the liberation of Marawi,” Padilla said.
“We have not set any deadline. We’re giving the troops and the ground commanders all the leeway to execute their plans,” he added.