From Fugitive to Ally: The Missing Story of Misuari’s Return
NUR MISUARI, the country’s foremost Moro rebel who launched the separatist movement in the late ‘60s, is no stranger to the limelight. He has waged war against the government and has been hounded for it. His foray into mainstream politics in the ‘90s and his subsequent removal from the leadership of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fueled intense and wide media coverage.
So the clueless coverage of Misuari’s appearance in Malacañang on Nov. 3 was disappointing, to say the least. With few exceptions, the media reported Misuari’s recent resurfacing on the invitation of President Rodrigo Duterte, no less, without reference to the reason for his three years in hiding, as fugitive from the law facing charges for rebellion and “crimes against humanity.” He was alleged to have commanded the 2013 Zamboanga siege that left more than 200 people dead, including civilians, policemen, soldiers and MNLF members.
Misuari is now a free man, at least for six months, after the Pasig City Regional Trial Court Branch 158 suspended the proceedings and enforcement of the warrants for his arrest. This allowed him to meet with President Duterte, who had arranged his transport to Manila, escorted by Secretary Jesus Dureza. The president invited the MNLF leader to speak from the presidential podium, from where Misuari proceeded to recall his role in the struggle for Moro liberation and express his support for the peace process of the Duterte administration.
Most of the news reports, print or TV, were bereft of the context and detail that the event required.
Who Is Misuari?
Not surprisingly, Nur Misuari’s connection to the 2013 Zamboanga siege was the most commonly used backgrounder in the media’s coverage. Hardly any outlet delved into the rich, violent and complicated history of Misuari and the rebellion he helped wage, the impact of which continues to be felt today.
Among the exceptions, Aksyon Tonite’s “EDiTORYAL” segment on Nov. 3 aired a special feature on Misuari to supplement their reports on the rebel leader’s meeting with Duterte. The report looked into Misuari’s history as the face of the Moro rebellion in Mindanao and the founder of the MNLF in the 1970s, as well as his connection with the breakaway group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The special also recounted how Misuari was ousted by his own fellow rebels from the MNLF leadership due to the dissatisfaction among its ranks, noting the breakup of the group into factions since then, with no clear indications whether Misuari is still considered its leader.
Also tackled were the peace pacts Misuari signed in behalf of the MNLF with two previous governments: the 1976 Tripoli Agreement under the government of then President Ferdinand Marcos and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with then President Fidel V. Ramos which sought to fully implement the points agreed upon in the previous treaty.
“Misuari, the MILF and Malaysia” published by PhilStar.com on Nov. 4 also made a similar effort, also explaining Misuari’s animosity toward Malaysia.
Misuari, MILF and the Peace Process
The media’s coverage was right to report Misuari’s return in the context of the resumption of the peace process. The Duterte administration has set out to get the leadership of both MILF and MNLF on board.
On Nov. 7, Duterte signed the executive order (EO) for the expanded Bangsamoro Transition Committee (BTC). The new BTC, presented by government panel chairperson Irene Santiago, will now be composed of 21 members. Eleven will come from the MILF, while the remaining 10 will be nominated by the government—three of which will come from the MNLF. The Misuari-MNLF faction will have a separate 5-member implementing peace panel.
However, the euphoria over having united the leaders of both groups was short-lived. In an exclusive report by CNN Philippines’ Network News on the same day the EO was signed, Misuari revealed his refusal to work with the MILF leaders whom he regarded as “traitors” and “criminals.”
This disdain goes back of course to the fact that the MILF had parted ways from the MNLF. In 2012, Misuari criticized the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed by the Aquino government and the MILF the same year as “a product of tripartite conspiracy.” He also claimed the FAB was a clear violation of the 1996 FPA signed by the government with the MNLF and lamented that the latter was remiss in its duty in implementing the treaty.
Missed Relevant Information
Also missing in the coverage are other cases filed apart from those connected with the Zamboanga siege. Misuari was recently charged with graft and malversation in connection with the anomalous procurement of educational materials in 2000-2001 as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the filing of charges against him on Sept. 28, 2016, when the Commission on Audit (COA) found red flags in the procurement of the educational materials, such as the lack of public bidding; lack of dates and numbers in the procurement documents; absence of contracts, inventory and distribution lists; undue haste in the purchases which showed the rigged bidding; and non-compliance with eligibility requirements by the suppliers involved.
Only 24 Oras’ report was able to include this in its backgrounder on Misuari. (“Sec. Dureza, sinundo si Nur Misuari sa Sulu at dinala sa Malacañang,” November 3, 2016)
Misuari had also faced rebellion charges in 2001 in relation to an uprising staged by his MNLF followers in Jolo, Sulu in a bid to stop the ARMM elections. The raid left more than 100 people dead. Misuari fled to Malaysia but was deported by authorities for illegal entry. He was put under house arrest until he was released on bail in 2008. The rebellion charges were dropped in December 2009 after the prosecution failed to prove his involvement with the assault.
These twists and turns in the fabled career of Nur Misuari cannot be dismissed as historical trivia. The media owes their public a record of the past as the man and the MNLF exert greater influence and a place at the table in the current peace talks of the Duterte’s administration.