Duterte tells Misuari: Let’s talk peace
JOLO, Sulu—President Rodrigo Duterte traveled to the southern island province of Sulu on Friday to personally convince Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari to come out of hiding, saying the 77-year-old Muslim leader was vital to the government’s plan of ending a rebellion that has left parts of the South in deep poverty.
“My job when I became President was really to seek peace, not war,” Mr. Duterte said, as he appealed to soldiers and Moro rebels in the South to silence their guns and give his young government a chance to end the bloodshed.
Misuari remains in hiding after a 2013 siege in nearby Zamboanga City that left 200 dead and thousands displaced. The attack was carried out by his MNLF supporters to derail the government’s peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which they feared would sideline their group.
The assault lasted for days and paralyzed the city where more than 10,000 homes were razed to the ground.
“I’ve been telling him if we can just talk about peace, let’s find ways,” the President said of Misuari, who in 1996 led the MNLF in signing a peace deal with the government.
Misuari later became governor of the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao, which unfortunately remained mired in poverty despite millions of pesos poured into it. The previous government of President Benigno Aquino III had branded it as a failure, displeasing the Moro leader and his armed followers.
Mr. Duterte on Friday, however, assured Misuari that the government was ready, noting that he asked Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza and other members of the peace panel to “talk to Nur.”
He said he wanted unified talks with all Moro groups, as it would be expensive to hold separate negotiations with them individually.
“The other half with Nur and the other half with the MILF,” he said, even as he appealed to Misuari to keep the peace while talks were going on.
He said the government was prepared to thwart any attack, however, saying: “It’s better that you die than them.”
Speaking in Davao City on Thursday night, Mr. Duterte said he would not want to see Misuari pursued and detained, warning that should anything bad happen to the rebel leader “you can never have a talk again with the Tausugs.”
“Now, Misuari is getting old. I’m not saying, not saying, that he’s sick. But with the fragile condition of his age, he does not need to be pursued and I do not want him detained,” he said.
“If something happens to Misuari while we’re detaining him, that would be a big problem, as in big,” he stressed. “So you lose the chance, even if it’s a small one, to have peace talks with anybody there. That is dangerous.”
The President earlier said he was bent on talking peace with Moro rebels, represented by both the MNLF and the MILF.
He had said he wanted to give them the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would carve out a new region for them in the South. But the law should be without the constitutionally infirm provisions.
Reiterating his call for peace, Mr. Duterte said “no other President” wanted to see peace as much as he did.
“I hope this is now the time (for peace) so that our troops can also go home. They will enjoy the peace of the land and go back to their families,” he said.
“I am appealing to you to stop this war, I am pleading. I will talk to you,” he added.
Soldiers under stress
Mr. Duterte said soldiers were under tremendous stress and wanted to see an end to the fighting that has stunted economic growth and ravaged many areas.
“I pose this question, how many have died because of the rebellion in Mindanao? Let’s talk peace now and we can have a demarcation line but we cannot return everything to you. No migrant should leave, we are not taking anything from you, we were born here. We have not committed any wrong to you,” he said.
He offered to convert the presidential plane into a medical transport to ferry wounded troops, as well as reiterated a pledge to deliver state-of-the-art medical facilities.
Peace, he said, could lead to dividends, and in the case of Sulu, the opening of the airport runway 24 hours a day and the entry of foreign investors, including Arabs.
“Let’s stop shooting at each other, let’s talk peace,” Mr. Duterte said.
“I reiterate my commitment to the Moro people, the Tausugs, I want this war to end,” he said.
Mr. Duterte made it clear that the brutal bandit group Abu Sayyaf was excluded from the talks. The gunmen are still holding a Norwegian hostage somewhere in Jolo, while two Canadian captives had been beheaded after their government refused to hand over ransom.
“The problem is the Abu Sayyaf. I really don’t know (who they are and what they stand for). I have been talking to Nur, who said that he also can’t convince them,” he said.
“We not only fight (them) we have to destroy (them),” Mr. Duterte said. TVJ