Misuari comes in from the cold
Nur Misuari emerged from three years of hiding in his forested Jolo Island redoubt and was flown to Manila in a private jet for a meeting on Thursday with President Duterte in Malacañang, where he vowed to help bring peace to Mindanao and expose Malaysia’s role in the Abu Sayaff kidnappings for ransom in the south.
The 77-year-old founder of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the President embraced like “long-lost brothers,” said peace adviser Jesus Dureza, who was tasked with bringing the rebel leader to Malacañang after a Pasig court suspended for six months, at the government’s behest, an arrest warrant against him for the 2013 siege of Zamboanga.
“I came here to thank him for restoring my freedom, if only partially,” said Misuari, wearing a printed kaffiyeh, in a nationally televised news conference with Mr. Duterte. “Should he need our cooperation in his campaign for peace, [he] can count on us.”
Misuari said he moved against the Abu Sayyaf bandits on Mr. Duterte’s request and that he was responsible for the rescue of their hostages, including Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, in September.
He said he sent 1,700 of his forces and cordoned off the position of the bandit group, which then told him that they would return the hostages.
But Misuari said “enterprising people” came and offered them money.
Malaysia linked to kidnaps
He said the steps that he had taken had led the Armed Forces of the Philippines to rescue some of the hostages.
Misuari linked Malaysia to the Abu Sayaff kidnappings.
“Our source is saying that since Malaysia is the one who is involved in this kidnapping for ransom, probably, one day, I will drag their leaders into that International Criminal Court,” he said. “My people are everywhere and besides, they cannot escape because they are hiring my own people.”
Mr. Duterte, who is traveling to Malaysia for a two-day visit next week, is expected to have more meetings with Misuari, Dureza said, adding that the two were unable to talk at length yesterday.
“We would like to ask that we work together with our Moro brothers and create a country that is really, that is just and that is good and that would be for the next generations to come,” Mr. Duterte said, addressing Misuari as “Brother Nur.”
He recalled that he and Misuari had previously spoken about finally talking peace in Mindanao. Little did they know that the time would come that they could now talk about an understanding with the government, the President said.
“And that I assure you, I said, as you have narrated, 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,” he said.
Misuari, describing the President as a man he respects and trusts, promised that Mr. Duterte could rely on him.
Happy to be free again
“Just allow me to reiterate my sense of gratitude to the President and my promise, should he need our cooperation in his campaign for peace, you can count on us, Mr. President,” he said.
“I told our dear brother, the President, I was already determined to stay put in the mountains were it not for his call, were it not for his invitation. It’s just that I cannot reject his invitation because I respect him too much,” said Misuari, who has been in hiding since a warrant for his arrest was issued for rebellion in the 2013 siege of Zamboanga City.
“Now I want to tell you, paraphrasing that statement of my friend Kjartan, now I am so happy to be free again, owing to the initiative of our President,” he added.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar earlier told reporters that Misuari’s group would take up some seats on the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that would draft a new Bangsamoro law.
“What we know is that the strategy for a successful Bangsamoro peace agreement is to be inclusive and include the Moro National Liberation Front faction of Chairman Nur Misuari,” he said.
The implication of Misuari’s release would be “big,” he added.
“It only means that there’s bigger chance, opportunity for the Bangsamoro peace agreement to really push through, because it’s the same agreement that failed [under] the last administration,” he said, referring to the Bangsamoro Basic Law that the Aquino administration had negotiated with Misuari’s rival group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The panel now would include the groups which felt they were marginalized during the last administration, he said.
Misuari also aired his grievances, reminiscing about injustices. He talked about the protests outside Malacañang that he had joined to demand justice for the Muslims killed in the Jabidah massacre. He also complained about some members of the media, saying they “distort” his statements.
“And some of them are insisting—before, they used to insist, MNLF is a spent force,” he said.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, the AFP spokesperson, said Misuari would give peace a chance.
“Hopefully all of these arrangements, all of these negotiations will lead to a long, just and lasting, sustainable peace for the whole country,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM VINCE F. NONATO, CYNTHIA D. BALANA, JULIE ALIPALA AND KARLOS MANLUPIG
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