ZAMBOANGA CITY: Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari on Tuesday said the declaration of “pure independence” still needs the imprimatur of all his commanders and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which helped broker the 1996 peace agreement.
Misuari, who met with his commanders in the town of Indanan on July 29, almost declared independence but changed his mind, saying he still needs to consult with senior leaders before making the announcement “at the right time.”
“We are going to find the right time to for the formal declaration [of independence.]I still need to communicate with the OIC so we still have to discuss this with our leaders,” he said in the local Tausug dialect.
Misuari lamented that it has been three decades since the OIC mediated in the peace talks, but the government has failed to comply with the provisions in the accord.
“Nothing has been achieved. And that’s why we need to carefully plan on what steps to take. Let us wait, we cannot just jump into something which will not bring good to us,” he told his followers.
Surrounded by his most trusted leaders and loyal lieutenants, including Ustadz Habier Malik and Khaid Ajibun, Misuari was many times interrupted by the huge crowd of MNLF members chanting “Allahu Akbar” and raising their weapons in the air as a show of support to his cause.
The military did nothing to prevent the daring public display of weapons and forces, fearing any attempt to stop them would trigger a fierce battle.
Misuari said government officials scrambled to meet with Indonesian leaders in Jakarta to ask them to intercede and stop him from declaring independence.
“I tell you Indonesia and the Philippines will again talk to us and try to stop our determination and this is to declare independence, complete, pure independence of our nation,” he said.
Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa advised Manila to continue to exercise patience even in the face of provocation as he reiterated Jakarta’s support for the peace process in Mindanao.
Misuari has accused the government of trying to abrogate the peace accord it forged with the MNLF. He also denounced the peace talks between the government of President Benigno Aquino 3rd and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), its rival rebel group, after negotiators signed an accord that would create a Bangsamoro state.
Misuari insisted the peace process violated the MNLF-Philippines agreement.
The Muslim homeland would replace the existing Muslim autonomous region which is composed of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao provinces, including the cities of Marawi and Lamitan. Several other areas in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato would also be included in the new autonomous region.
But Teresita Deles, the Presidential peace adviser, denied Misuari’s allegations that Manila wanted to abrogate the peace accord.
Deles explained that while the government’s position is to bring the tripartite review process to a proper completion, she said the Aquino administration will continue to engage relevant parties of the MNLF, through the existing mechanism, to find a just and comprehensive political solution in the Mindanao conflict.
Deles said after almost six years of tripartite review, a joint review process had already established consensus points and some joint mechanisms and actions particularly between MNLF representatives and the Muslim autonomous regional government.
“From the start, what the government proposed to complete was the review process, not the closure of the peace process or the abrogation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement,” she said.
The review process is being facilitated by the OIC, specifically its Peace Committee for the Southern Philippines which is headed by Indonesia.
The MILF previously branded the Muslim autonomous region as a failure. The region has been rocked by corruption scandals and remains as one of the poorest in the country.
The group also called on the government to amend the Constitution that would allow the creation of a Muslim sub-state in Mindanao. Aquino’s allies in Congress are now pushing for the amendment of the Constitution, saying there is a need to change many provisions in the Charter that would benefit the country’s economy, among others.
After the 1996 peace accord with the MNLF, Misuari became the governor of the autonomous region. But many former rebels were disgruntled with the accord as the local government failed to uplift their standards of living.
They accused the government of failing to develop the war-torn areas in the South, which remain mired in poverty, heavily militarized and dependent financially on Manila.
Meanwhile, other senior MNLF leaders raised doubts over Misuari’s threat to pursue independence.
“Moro independence is a dead issue now. Prof. Misuari and some of us were given the chance to put into actions our aspirations for the welfare of the Bangsamoro people but failed miserably,” a member of the MNLF’s pioneering “Top 90” Batch said.
Other MNLF pioneers and of the succeeding “Spartan 300” generation downplayed Misuari’s new brainchild.
“Who heads the Republik? Who belongs to it? Where is it based? The answers, I think are obvious. It is Misuari and his loyal followers, and the base is Sulu,” a member of the so-called “300-member” second Batch said in a text message to The Manila Times.
The “Top 90” included Misuari who is from Sulu, Salamat Hashim of Maguindanao and Dimas Pundato of Lanao del Sur, who were declared vice chairmen of the then undivided MNLF.
Misuari signed on behalf of the MNLF a final peace deal with the government on September 2, 1996 under then President Fidel Ramos, who reopened in succeeding years peace talks with the MILF.
But because of policy differences, Hashim left the MNLF and formed his faction now known as MILF, which is now chaired by Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, himself a member of the 300-strong MNLF second batch.
Pundato also decided to split and created the MNLF-Reformist Group, which eventually fizzled out after its leaders were appointed in various government posts.
Mainland Mindanao-based MNLF leaders and senior MILF members believed that Misuari was given the chance to translate Moro revolutionaries’ visions for their community’s welfare when he was named chairman of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) and later elected governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), but “failed to deliver.”
“There were gray areas on the part of the government in the implementation of the 1996 peace accord but Misuari should [have]optimized every available, albeit limited, resources for the maximum benefits of his people. But he miscarried out his functions and yet demanding more and more funding and powers,” another MNLF pioneer member said.
Misuari’s earlier pronouncement of a new “Bangsamoro Republik” prompted the spread of a barrage of text messages warning about eventual armed protests in Mindanao.
Government and MILF officials refused to give reactions about the “Republik,” saying this could undermine their current peace talks that propose the replacement of the ARMM with new political autonomous entity called “Bangsamoro” sub-state.
‘All the way’
But for forces loyal to Misuari, they would go “all the way” where they are led.
For one, indigenous people in Mindanao led by Dad Tuan, the former mayor of T’boli municipality in South Cotabato, will support the MNLF and fight against the government in case war broke out.
Tribal leaders who gathered in a meeting late on Sunday in T’boli town reportedly led by Tuan, who is the younger brother of the late MNLF deputy vice-chairman for indigenous tribe in Mindanao, expressed allegiance to the MNLF.
The gathering included heads of large indigenous groups composed of the major tribes of B’laan, T’boli, Kaolo, Manobo, Mandaya and Tiruray.
Malik, a B’laan tribal leader, gave this information when he heard a group of Christian leaders discuss the stand of the MNLF to declare independence and the prospects of waging a new war for independence.
These indigenous groups were among the forces that remained loyal to Misuari, who brought their cause before the negotiating table in 1976. Mai Tuan was Mindanao’s most respected tribal leader at that time. He became Misuari’s deputy vice-chairman for indigenous people.
“Thousands of indigenous forces will join forces with MNLF chair Misuari because they believe that joining the cause of Misuari is the only way they can pay back the favors Misuari had given them,” Malik said.
Meanwhile, the group Ang Katipunan ng mga Samahang Maharlika (AKSM Inc.), a confederation of various regional movements in the country, strongly urged President Aquino to immediately settle the problem with the MNLF to prevent the outbreak of war.
“We are appealing to President Aquino to resolve what the MNLF has asked over the fulfillment of the long standing 1996 peace accord because it would be the people in Mindanao who will suffer should war erupt,” said Deo Palma, the AKSM Inc. national coordinator based in Manila.
The confederate groups of AKSM in Mindanao are preparing for mass actions to stop the signing of the final peace pact with the MILF.