President-elect Rodrigo Duterte showed readiness to broker peace with rebel groups as he declared on Thursday he is willing to go to Jolo in Sulu to meet with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari.
He issued the statement apparently to appease the rebel group after its spokesman claimed that MNLF members were snubbed by the mayor when they sought him out in Davao City after the elections.
“Sabi ng MNLF inisnab sila [The MNLF said they were snubbed]. I am very sorry to say na hindi namin talaga ginawa ‘yan [I am very sorry to say but we did not really do that],” Duterte told reporters in a news conference in Davao City.
“Just to prove a point that I’m really interested… I will fly to Jolo and talk to Nur,” he said.
MNLF spokesman Rev. Absalom Cerveza earlier complained that they went to Davao on
May 16 to talk to Duterte but they were not given the opportunity.
“To be ignored is a great insult,” Cerveza said in a previous interview.
Duterte, however, insisted that there was no deliberate effort to snub the rebel group.
“Believe me, I don’t do that,” he said.
When asked about his planned meeting with Misuari, the presumptive President replied, “I’ll find time. Misuari does not want to travel. He is facing charges. He is a fugitive.”
Misuari has been in hiding since his followers attacked Zamboanga City in 2013.
Although Duterte did not say what issues will be tackled during his meeting with Misuari, a commander of the MNLF said the two will possibly discuss federalism and a peace agreement signed by the Philippine government and the group in 1996 that has not been fully implemented.
The peace pact signed by Misuari and the administration of President Fidel Ramos was set aside by President Benigno Aquino 3rd when he forged a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The MILF is a breakaway group of the MILF.
The final peace pact signed by the MNLF paved the way for the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Misuari was the first ARMM governor.
Had the peace agreement signed by the Aquino administration and the MILF been passed by Congress, the ARMM would be replaced by the Bangsamoro region.
Johny Siao, chief of the MNLF’s National Border Command based in General Santos City, said majority of their members support Duterte’s move to push federalism.
Siao claimed his group will choose federalism over implementation of the 1996 peace agreement because the latter only benefits some parts of Mindanao.
He said whatever agreement will be reached by Duterte and Misuari will be relayed to MNLF members during consultations before making it final.
With Duterte, according to Siao, bent on changing the form of government from presidential to federal, the chance for passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress is nil.
He said MNLF and MILF officials will meet on Saturday, May 28, in Davao City.
Siao, however, did not say what the two groups will discuss in the rare meeting.
He said Jimmy Labawan, MNLF central committee vice chairman, will be among the officials present in the meeting.
Duterte, the incumbent mayor of Davao City, said he and the National Democratic Front have reached an agreement on a framework for peace talks between the government and the NDF.
The mayor said he spent three hours talking to NDF spokesman Fidel Agcaoili on Wednesday evening in Davao City where they discussed the planned peace talks.
The NDF is the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
“We agreed on the framework on how to proceed with the peace talks,” Duterte also told reporters.
“And maybe in God’s good time, I told Fidel that, merong panahon dadating sa atin [there will come a time]that we will stop talking about being left and being right,” he said.
Duterte earlier announced that he will allow the NDF to submit its nominees for four Cabinet portfolios — the Departments of Labor, Social Welfare, Agrarian Reform and Environment and Natural Resources.
The mayor said the NDF submitted an “impressive” list of people with talent.”
He, however, added that he is uncertain if these nominees will accept the job.
“I really do not know if they are willing to,” Duterte said.