BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari pledged support to President Rodrigo Duterte’s search for lasting peace in volatile Mindanao, during a historic meeting with the President in Malacanang on Thursday, November 3.
The President recognizes Misuari’s key role in bringing peace in Mindanao, for decades wracked by fighting between government troopers and Moro rebels that has killed thousands and displaced countless numbers of civilians.
Misuari, who launched a secessionist campaign for a Moro homeland in Mindanao in the late 60s, is the poster boy of the Bangsamoro struggle.
“It is with great happiness that I announce to the nation that Chairman Nur Misuari, our brother, has finally decided to accept my invitation for him to talk to us,” the President said in his welcome speech.
President Duterte invited fugitive Misuari for the Palace meeting with assurance of safe passage.
Misuari and several MNLF commanders are facing non-bailable charges of rebellion and violation of Republic Act 9851, the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity, before the Pasig Regional Trial Court (RTC) in connection with the 2013 Zamboanga City siege.
The warrant for Misuari’s arrest has been suspended by the court on request of the President to allow the MNLF leader to meet with him to talk peace in Malacanang.
Upon the MNLF founder’s arrival at the Palace, President Duterte and Misuari met behind closed doors before facing the media.
The MNLF, founded by Misuari in 1969, is the second biggest Moro group that has been fighting the government for autonomy for the Bangsamoro people, the now minority original settlers of the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao.
The government inked a peace pact two years ago with the other Moro group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a splinter group that broke away from the MNLF.
The Philippine Congress is now deliberating on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), that would create a new juridical entity covering Muslim-dominated parts of Mindanao. The Moro problem is seen as the biggest stumbling block to the development of the agriculture- and mineral-rich island where Moro militants have been fighting the Manila government for than five decades.
“I believe, as I said during the (election) campaign, there is one single man who can provide solutions to the problem of peace and order in our homeland of Mindanao,” said President Duterte in his speech at the simple welcome ceremony for Misuari.
The President won the May 2016 election with a landslide with a vow to end bureaucratic corruption and crime, and finding solutions to the Moro and communist insurgency problem, which hobbled the country’s march to progress and development.
Misuari and the MNLF, which already inked a peace pact with the government during the Cory Aquino presidency, do not acknowledge the government’s peace negotiation with the MILF. Davao City and then Mayor Duterte played key role in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the MNLF by hosting several Tripartite Conferences and Ministerial Meetings that led to the signing of the historic pact.
Misuari was the first Governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), that was created as an offshoot of the Final Peace Agreement.
Misuari’s meeting with the President is fresh air that could invigorate efforts to find lasting peace in Mindanao.
“Allow me to reiterate my sense of gratitude to the President and my promise that should he need our cooperation in his campaign for peace, you can count on us, Mr. President,” Misuari said in his speech after he was warmly welcomed by President Duterte, his old friend.
Misuari emerged from his hide-out in Jolo, Sulu for the historic Malacanang meeting with the President after a court suspended for six months execution of an arrest warrant against him. He was fetched by Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza who had a copy of the decision of a Pasig City court to suspend the arrest warrant against Misuari in connection with the 2013 siege.
In his speech, an elated Misuari thanked President Duterte for his temporary liberty, and described the President as the “man who I respect and trust.”
Help me create a “country that is really just and that is good and that would be for the next generations to come, ” the President asked Misuari.
“I assure you, we will come up with the modality and then of course, how to place us in our proper homeland, our Mindanao, and that we will talk about the Bangsamoro Authority,” the President told Misuari.
The President reiterated to Misuari his election campaign commitment to bring peace and development to Mindanao, his advocacy for a shift to a federal form of government, and his promise to step down from the presidency after a federal government is established.
Duterte admitted that injustice has been done against the Bangsamoro people, but hoped to remedy this by working together with Misuari and the Bangsamoro.