ILIGAN CITY—Nur Misuari was uncharacteristically not in the limelight when Vice President Jejomar Binay announced a supposed ceasefire plan in Zamboanga City close to midnight on Friday.
Following his declaration of independence in his turf in Sulu, Misuari has not shown his face in public since the siege of Zamboanga by his followers that started on Sept. 9.
His supposed instructions to his men did not come from the so-called horse’s mouth. His followers were told to stand down, prepare for battle but not retreat by his subordinates.
Even as Misuari’s hand is not highly visible in the Zamboanga attacks by his followers, he is sure to have inspired the siege on several villages in Zamboanga.
For almost two years now, Misuari has shown displeasure over the government’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which broke off from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1977, became a separate revolutionary organization in 1984 and was a threat to peace talks with the MNLF under the administration of former President Fidel Ramos.
For Misuari, peace in Mindanao is essentially peace with him. He is now seeking new talks with the government with the help of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a group of Muslim countries that played a key role in the 1996 peace agreement that Misuari signed with the Ramos administration.
Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief peace negotiator, said Misuari’s recent behavior simply shows the MNLF faction leader’s belief that the MNLF owns a “franchise” in ways to solve the Bangsamoro struggle for independence or self-rule.
“For the MILF, solving the Bangsamoro question is not about franchise. Whoever will be able to address it, we support it,” Iqbal said.
Only during the Aquino administration has the government made explicit a policy that doused cold water on Misuari’s personal aspirations.
On March 2012, during an OIC-convened meeting in Bandung, Indonesia, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles told leaders of MNLF factions that while the government is committed to implementing the 1996 peace agreement with MNLF, its doors are shut to new negotiations over that pact.
Instead, Deles outlined a government strategy to find ways to merge the results of peace talks with the MNLF and that which is ongoing with the MILF. Deles believed that this can be achieved through a new law on Bangsamoro autonomy.
Recipe for Nur’s war
On Oct. 15 last year, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, OIC secretary general, and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak were guests at ceremonies for the signing of a peace framework between the Aquino administration and MILF.
By then, Misuari has shifted to high gear in his criticism of the peace process with the MILF. He said the peace framework is just “a recipe for another big, big war in Mindanao.”
A week after the peace framework was signed, Misuari was introduced at a rally in Davao City as president of the Bangsamoro Republic.
By November that year, the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers lauded the MILF and government for the peace framework agreement. It also urged MNLF and MILF to unite through a Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF), which Nur snubbed and did not take off.
Gaining no traction for his political stunts, like losing in the recent elections for governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Misuari hogged the limelight again with a declaration of Bangsamoro independence last month.
Misuari claimed that he was forced to do so because the government put a “closure to the 1996 FPA.”
Deles vehemently denied this, saying a government review of the 1996 pact is ongoing though its implementation continues.
The review is being done by government representatives and those of at least two MNLF factions–one led by Misuari and the other by Muslimin Sema–and the OIC.
Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chief government negotiator for the MILF, said the review led to “common understandings on the matter of strategic minerals and 42 consensus points.”
Ferrer said some of the provisions of the 1996 pact needed legislation.
“Many of these items are similar to what we are discussing now (with the MILF),” Ferrer said.
Dalidig Sumndad, a former MNLF lawyer, said he agreed that merging the results of the talks with MNLF and those with ongoing talks with the MILF is possible.
Ferrer said she believed the two talks are conjoined. “The subject matters and the territorial application overlap. The constituency–the Bangsamoro–is the same,” she said.
“Details may differ,” she added. “There may be peculiarities here and there that are more in tune with contemporary realities as when they were negotiated in the 1990s. But the sum total effectively builds on what the MNLF achieved, or did not achieve, for one reason or another,” she said.
When the tripartite review of the 1996 pact began, Misuari raised three issues that he said were not yet fully addressed by government as part of its commitments: ARMM expansion, setup of transitional government and sharing on strategic minerals.
Deles said the issue on strategic minerals is already part of a consensus on sharing that has been reached with the MNLF and, in addition, is now being discussed, too, with the MILF.
ARMM expansion, according to Deles, was put to a vote in a plebiscite in 2001 under the law that created the ARMM, Republic Act No. 9054.
From only four provinces in 1989, the ARMM expanded to include Basilan (minus Isabela City) and Marawi City. Under the peace framework agreement with MILF, the future Bangsamoro entity will have the ARMM as core territory plus adjacent areas which are predominantly Moro-populated.
“We regret that what some leaders cannot get through reason, they twist through misinformation. What they cannot achieve with circumspect and consistency, they attempt to wrestle through force and endless demands. Positions that they cannot win in elections, they coerce on the table, or on the streets, taking with them hostages,” Ferrer said.