By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) – The Philippines’ one-time largest Muslim rebel group has welcomed President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s offer to meet the fugitive leader of the Moro front it broke away from due to disagreements over the peace process in southern Mindanao island.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said in an editorial on its official website Wednesday that it has no objection to a purported meeting between Duterte and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari, describing it as a step “in the right direction”.
“Frankly speaking, there is little problem that blocks the immediate healing with Misuari by government,” it said.
“It is only the cases filed against him and more than 200 followers that stand on the way,” it added, while highlighting the government’s “moral responsibility… to give justice to the innocent victims.”
Last week, Duterte -- the Davao City mayor -- said he would fly to the southern Philippines province of Sulu to meet Misuari.
In September 2013, a group led by Misuari laid siege to the predominantly Christian city of Zamboanga following a 2012 MILF-government peace deal, which Misuari claims is a betrayal of an 1996 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)-brokered agreement, has left his organization short-changed, and granted Muslims in the region lesser autonomy.
The MNLF is internationally recognized by the OIC, but some of its factions are opposed to the ongoing peace process between the government and MILF -- which broke away from the MNLF in 1984.
Since the 2013 siege, Misuari -- who publicly urged his followers to support the presidential candidacy of Duterte -- has been wanted for rebellion, genocide and crimes against humanity, along with about 60 of his followers.
The editorial Wednesday underlined that the 1996 deal “has already been practically implemented or fulfilled”.
It stressed that once a draft autonomy law -- which would have sealed a 2014 MILF-government deal but was stalled in Congress before campaigning for the May 9 election -- was approved and ratified, the MNLF would be included in a “Bangsamoro Transition Authority” in a new Muslim Bangsamoro region.
“The truth is that in both MNLF and MILF peace processes, STRICTLY SPEAKING, there is no more negotiations. Both are in implementations modes,” it said.
The MILF also reiterated that Duterte has expressed support for the peace process in Mindanao, from where he hails, as well as the stalled Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
“His is not only the commitment to solve the Bangsamoro Question but the unequivocal conviction that ‘nothing will satisfy the Muslims, nay Moros, except to give them the BBL’,” the editorial said, referring to his comments in the last presidential debate in April 24.
It added that during a visit to the MILF’s administrative base in Maguindanao province in February, Duterte “was categorical in stating his position that he would pass the BBL as a template to make the Philippines shift to federal system of government.”
Last week, MILF leaders said they have been left perplexed by remarks made by a political ally of Duterte, Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, who had suggested that the BBL be overridden by plans to introduce a federal system.
“The truth is that in both MNLF and MILF peace processes, strictly speaking, there is no more negotiations. Both are in implementations modes," underlined the editorial.