Duterte to meet Misuari, orders police not to arrest MNLF leader
President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday he has plans to meet Nur Misuari, ordering the police not to implement the arrest order against the fugitive Moro National Liberation Front leader in an effort to forge peace.
The announcement was the latest dramatic attempt by the firebrand leader to end decades-long insurgencies with Muslim and communist rebels that have claimed more than 150,000 lives.
Duterte, 71, said he had a phone conversation with the 77-year-old Misuari on Tuesday night.
“I can go to him, I can go to Jolo if he wants. Or if he wants somebody there, they can bring him back to Davao City or in Manila. He can be my guest in Malacañang, in the People’s Palace, and we can talk there for a while,” he said in a news briefing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).
Asked if the government would implement the standing warrant of arrest for Misuari if he surfaces, Duterte ordered the police to lift it.
“Well, if there is a warrant of arrest, all I have to do is to not implement it against him because if you arrest Misuari, you place him under the custody of the police diyan sa (in Camp) Crame and he dies for whatever reason, kompromiso na tayo (we will be compromised),” he said.
“Ako man ang hepe ng pulis pati military, sabihin ko lang, huwag ninyong galawin (I will just tell the chiefs of police and the military not to arrest him),” he added.
He said he wants to talk to Misuari rather than waste government money on fighting with the rebels.
“Kasi the most important thing really is that there is a dialogue going on kasi (because) it has saved us a lot of money,” he said.
“’Yung pera pang-away, ibili na lang natin ng, ibigay na lang natin sa tao pang-hanapbuhay (Instead of using the money for war, let’s just use it for people’s livelihood),” he added.
Misuari has a standing warrant of arrest on charges of rebellion.
But Misuari said he preferred they meet in Malaysia before representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), while promising a quick peace deal, according to Duterte.
“He said in two days we can sign something and end the fighting,” Duterte said.
The government of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, filed rebellion charges against Misuari for allegedly orchestrating a siege in the southern city of Zamboanga in 2013 that left more than 200 dead.
The offense is punishable by at least 30 years in prison, but Misuari was able to avoid arrest by remaining under the protection of his militants on Jolo, which is also home to the notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom gang.
Misuari founded the MNLF in 1969 to wage a guerrilla war for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines, where most of the nation’s Muslim minority live.
Misuari signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996 in return for the creation of a Muslim autonomous area.
The breakaway Moro Islamic Liberation Front then continued the rebellion, but in recent years also began negotiating for peace.
Misuari allegedly orchestrated the 2013 Zamboanga siege because he felt the MNLF was being sidelined under the planned MILF peace deal.
Duterte is aiming to forge a final peace agreement with both groups.
The president, in power for just two months, has also launched peace talks with communist rebels. To kickstart the peace process, he released 17 jailed communist leaders. IDL/TVJ
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