The national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) may be close to signing a final agreement ending decades of hostilities and setting the stage for the creation of a new autonomous region for Muslim Filipinos, but the two sides have yet to find a solution to the lingering problem of what to do with Nur Misuari.
It is no secret that the MILF wants nothing whatsoever to do with Misuari, founder of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which forged a permanent peace pact with the government that resulted in the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
In fact, the MILF was formerly little more than a splinter group of the MNLF. The leaders of the MILF did not accept the agreement inked between Misuari and the government, which is why they waged a protracted war with the national government that ended less than a year ago.
Like it or not, Misuari still wields considerable influence over the MNLF. Very recently, the aging warrior said that he would again wage war on the republic if the original pact signed in Tripoli, Libya decades ago is set aside.
It is difficult to “read” the pronouncements and actions of Misuari. Not too long, he took the odd move of blasting the government in foreign soil, then claimed that his statements were taken out of context.
He has been active in past elections, with little success.
His critics point to his failed term as ARMM governor, when the region hardly moved economically. As a result, the region remains mired in deep poverty. That Misuari was totally lacking in administrative ability of any kind is an understatement.
Still, a segment of the Moro or Muslim Filipino population still holds him in high esteem. When he warns of renewed conflict, it is not impossible to believe that it could happen. The MILF may be a more potent force today, and the MNLF may be a shadow of its former self, but it does not take too many followers of one leader to cause major headaches for both the government and the new authority that is almost certain to be headed by MILF.
But the MNLF has stated that they will not “relinquish” any of the territory that they claim as theirs by virtue of the Tripoli Agreement.
And herein lies the rub. The ARMM will disappear to be replaced by a new body, one that will exclude Misuari and his allies. This will definitely incite the man who was once the most feared rebel in recent history, one whom the Armed Forces of the Philippines with the help of the Philippine National Police could not neutralize.
The only workable solution is for the government and the MILF to include Misuari in whatever final agreement to be worked out. While this may seem unpalatable to some, the harsh truth is that Misuari will not go quietly into the night. He will remain a voice that demands to be heard.
This does not have to mean that he must be placated, or that the government and the MILF should give in to his demands. Misuari can be a rational man when he so desires, and in this late stage of his life – the guy is no spring chicken, after all – it may only be necessary to assure him of his place in history.
What the national government fails to recognize is that the Moros are nor exactly a united people. There are tribal nuances that can appear puzzling. Consider that in the ongoing Sabah conflict, Misuari has taken an opposing stance with the MILF, all because he is a Tausog. The MILF, on the other hand, are mostly Maranaws.
For a clearer understanding of this situation, consider that Cebuanos or Boholanos need not always see eye to eye with Kapampangans or Ilocanos, for example.
The one thing that all sides can agree on is that going back to war is the worst possible course of action to take. Too many Filipinos have died due to the extended wars that the government waged, first against Misuari’s MNLF, and later against the MILF. Those wars should be put behind us as a people. Not as Moros, not as Christians, but as Filipinos.