Feuding MNLF Leaders Agree to Work for a United Front

In a joint press statement dated May 18, MNLF leaders composed of founder Nur Misuari, current MNLF chairman Muslimin G. Sema, Dr. Parouk Hussin, Mujahab Hashim, Alvarez Isnaji, and Yusop Jikiri agreed upon 13 key issues to collectively work for peace and development in Mindanao.

But it was not clear if Misuari signed the agreement as his signature was not in the agreement. The Office of the Presidential Peace Adviser, who forwarded the press statement, however failed to identify who signed in behalf of Misuari.

The press statement said the MNLF leaders met in a two-day (May 17-18) unification talks in Tripoli, Libya, brokered by the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his son Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, chairman of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation.

The 13-point agreement covers the responsibilities and powers of the new committee, such as “resolving leadership crisis through democratic process before the end of June 2008.”

The MNLF, which signed a peace treaty with government 12 years ago, has been struggling to implement the rest of the agreement. The front, which was once the largest Muslim rebel group here in the South, is also seen to have been plagued by leadership crisis. Members are divided between loyalists of Misuari, the organization’s founder, and Sema, the new chairman.

Under the agreement, the MNLF leaders are expected to craft and implement programs that will “focus on the political, socio-economic, and other concerns of the Bangsamoro people.” This action is also in line to “consolidate the peace process between the government and the MNLF, including the issues of empowerment, both economic and political, particularly the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARRM) governance.” Elections for governor and district assemblymen are set to be held in August.

The creation of the Muslim region is an offshoot of the 1996 peace agreement, along with the integration of MNLF combatants to the mainstream military, and socio-economic programs.

The Moro rebel leaders have also committed to continue the “dialogue” with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who is currently engaged in a stalled peace talk with the government. Both rebel groups met in Manila in December last year to iron out issues and concerns. It was facilitated by young Gaddafi.

At the same time, the Moro leaders have urged the government to let them be “involved” in the peace talks between the State and MILF.

As to the incoming election in the Muslim region, the Moro leaders agreed to “convene the Bangsamoro people’s congress that shall finally decide on the issue of leadership and adopt a programme of action before the end of August 2008.”

Aside from renewing their roles in the organization, the group also underscored some key issues to be addressed by government.

These are to reactivate the Joint Monitoring Committee, to fully “perform its functions as mandated under the September 2, 1996 Final Peace Agreement;” and to “grant general amnesty to all MNLF members who have been charged with rebellion.”

The group expressed their appreciation for the initiative of the Philippine government “on its plan to establish a federal system, and urge the GRP to involve the MNLF in this political exercise.”

With the development in MNLF leadership, civil societies in Mindanao anticipate a smooth implementation of peace initiatives in the troubled region.

“This is indeed a positive step, thanks to the Libyan government. The MNLF leadership must reunite if the MNLF is to remain a key player in Mindanao, especially with regards to finding a lasting solution to the seemingly intractable conflict affecting the Bangsamoro and the GRP. We must remember that the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) regards the MNLF as the representative of the Bangsamoro,” said Amina Rasul-Bernardo, director of the Philippine Council on Islam and Democracy.

She said a united MNLF is critical to jumpstarting [again] the 1996 peace agreement. It cannot be done if lots of factions are claiming to be the central committee to MNLF.

“The MNLF is the signatory to the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. Thus, the MNLF’s role in peace and development in Mindanao is a crucial one, even as the government negotiates with the MILF,” she said.

But, she said: “However, I do not see the signature of MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari. The consensus achieved in Tripoli will not hold water if Chairman Misuari does not lend his support to the agreement.”

“In principle, it is a positive development. The unification of the MNLF leaders can contribute to the formula and solution to the Mindanao’s progress,” said Claretian priest Fr. Angel A. Calvo, president of Peace Advocates Zamboanga, and also the lead convenor of PeaceWeavers, an umbrella organization of peace advocates organizations in Mindanao.

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