ZAMBOANGA CITY: Authorities have failed to stop a former Moro rebel chieftain—who accused Manila of failing to honor provisions of a peace deal signed 17 years ago—from fomenting sedition.
Nur Misuari, head of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), has met tens of thousands of former rebels and their commanders and supporters in gatherings in southern Philippines where he told them about the government’s failure to fully implement the 1996 peace agreement.
Now, the regional police are gathering evidence to charge the former firebrand of sedition because his fiery statements and pronouncements against the Aquino government.
Sulu provincial police chief Abraham Orbita did not answer phone calls from journalists who wanted to get information over the order.
Misuari’s whereabouts is unknown, but he was in Sulu province last month where met with his commanders and hundreds of followers in the town of Indanan. And police and military authorities did nothing to prevent the daring public display of weapons and forces of the MNLF, fearing any attempt to stop them would trigger a battle.
There, he almost declared independence, but changed his mind, saying he still needs to consult with his senior leaders before making an announcement at the right time. “We are going to find the right time to go for the formal declaration (of independence). I still need to communicate with the OIC so we still have to discuss this among us leaders,” he said in the local Tausug dialect.
OIC refers to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation which helped broker the peace talks between the MNLF and the Philippines that led to the eventual signing of the agreement in September 1996.
Misuari said it has been three decades now since the OIC mediated in the peace talks, but Manila has failed to comply with the provisions in the accord.
“It is more than 30 years now since the OIC mediated in the peace talks and up to now 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 said.
Misuari has repeatedly accused the Aquino government of trying to abrogate the peace accord it forged with the MNLF, and strongly denounced the peace talks between the Aquino government and rival rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after negotiators signed an accord that would create the Bangsamoro state, saying it 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 more areas in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato would also be included in the new autonomous region.
The MILF, a breakaway faction of the MNLF, 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 MILF previously called on the government to amend the Constitution that would allow the creation of a Muslim sub-state in Mindanao.
President Benigno 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, saying, the government failed to uplift their standards of living.
The rebels accused Manila of failing to develop the war-torn areas in the South, which remains in mired in poverty, heavily militarized and dependent financially on Manila.
In November 2001, on the eve of the elections in the Muslim autonomous region, Misuari again accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement, and his followers launched a new rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga City, where more than 100 people were killed.
Misuari escaped by boat to Malaysia, but was arrested there and deported to the Philippines. He was eventually freed in 2008 after Manila dropped all charges against him for lack of sufficient evidence. He was also ousted by Muslimin Sema, the MNLF Secretary-General, but Misuari maintained that he is the true leader of the former rebel group.